“I Need to Feel As If I Own the Novel”: An Audience with Esther Freud
Written for UEA Live by Laurel Brown
“Just as a plane takes us on a journey – so does a novel.” These wise words from Esther Freud rang true as she took her audience on a journey into her wonderful mind and the intricate creation of her latest novel, I Couldn’t Love You More. The journey began with anticipation as the room gradually filled with conversations between budding writers and literary fans alike. We were all eager to experience the revolutionary mind of Esther Freud. I saw the way the audience fidgeted in suspense, leaning forward in their seats, searching for the renowned author. There was a sense of expectation – but it was clear to me that this would be met, we were all about to be enthralled by Esther.
Esther began by speaking of her journey into the land of literature. It was interesting to hear her struggles with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child – this meant that she did not develop her love for literature until she was ten years old. Esther spoke of how one day she picked up a memoir she found lying around her childhood home, and that was that. The seed was planted. In many ways, this catalytic moment was what created her love for the auto-fiction novel that she finds herself writing today. Despite her prolific talent for writing, Esther told her audience of how she spent her early years at a drama school – hoping to have a career in anything other than sitting at a desk all day. The irony of that statement was not lost on Esther or the audience – laughter filled the hall for the first time that evening. However, alongside her time spent as a budding actress, Esther spoke of a creative writing class she took in this time. This was the moment her seed began to blossom – Esther was caught by “the spirit, the danger, and the excitement” of writing.
However, what drew Esther in was “the moment where I thought people were listening”. This moment is incredibly important when focusing on her latest novel I Couldn’t Love You More. The novel explores the lives of three women, throughout different generations; their relationships, their lives, and their stories. These women are based off Esther, her mother and her grandmother – the stories they tell are raw, emotional and told with such grace and justice. Esther spoke highly of the time she spent researching the history surrounding these women – in particular, how she visited Cork many times to familarise herself with the mother and baby home that is a crucial part of the book’s protagonist Aoife’s life. The process of writing this novel was something that brought Esther curiosity – she spoke of how “you become a detective as a writer” and how this aided in her creation of these characters. She also commented on how “when I was writing it and forming it into a story – I had their attention.”
I Couldn’t Love You More is the result of six years of dedication, sacrifice, and research around sixty years of stories. This novel is a beautiful mixture of history and emotion. Esther has crafted an unapologetic look into the darkness that plagued the history of these women, the unbroken relationship between mothers and their children and the love that entwines them together. It is a revolutionary step into the auto-fiction genre and works as an experimental piece of art that deviates from the natural structures of time and relationships as we know them today. This novel is enlightening, powerful and complex. Esther has our attention.
Laurel Brown is a poet and prose writer who currently studies Creative Writing and English Literature at the University of East Anglia. She is currently in the process of writing her first novel but has had poems and short stories published before. Her latest short story “The Butcher of Belarus” has been published in Underground: UEA Undergraduate Anthology.