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Freud, Esther 1963–

Freud, Esther 1963–

PERSONAL: Born 1963, in London, England; daughter of Lucien Freud (a painter) and Bernadine Coverley (a teacher); married David Morrissey (an actor); children: Albie, Anna. Education: Attended the Drama Centre.

ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, 10 E. 53rd St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10022.

CAREER: Actress and writer. Worked as an actress in England; Norfolk Broads (a women's theater company), England, cofounder.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Hideous Kinky, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992.

Peerless Flats, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.

Gaglow, [England], 1997, published as Summer at Gaglow, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1998.

The Wild, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 2000.

The Sea House, Ecco/HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

OTHER

(Author of text, with Mary Catherine Bateson and Diana van Golden) Daan van Golden, Youth Is an Art (exhibition catalog) Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), 1997.

Contributor to periodicals, including Granta.

ADAPTATIONS: Hideous Kinky was adapted for audio cassette, read by the author, by the Audio Partners, 1999, and adapted for film by Billy MacKinnon and released by Stratosphere Entertainment, 1998.

SIDELIGHTS: Esther Freud, great-granddaughter of Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud and daughter of painter Lucien Freud, has written several novels drawn from her own experiences. Wendy Smith in Publishers Weekly commented: "Family life, especially in its more unconventional forms, is a central concern in all of Freud's meticulously observed, emotionally resonant novels"

Freud received favorable critical attention for her first book, Hideous Kinky. The semi-autobiographical book has been hailed by critics as an interesting and well-written account of the author's childhood experiences in Morocco with her mother and sister. New York Times Book Review critic Sarah Ferguson called Hideous Kinky Freud's "song of childhood exile, a paean to the troublesome beauty of life on the run."

The action of Hideous Kinky takes place in the 1960s, when the five-year-old narrator and her seven-year-old sister are taken from England to Morocco by their mother, called "Mum." In search of adventure and freedom, Mum wants to be liberated from the social constraints of British society. Accompanying the trio on their journey is John, Mum's boyfriend, and his wife, Maretta. A psychologically disturbed woman, Maretta apparently has a vocabulary of two words, "hideous" and "kinky," which the sisters adopt as their chant or mantra as they begin their unusual journey. In Morocco, Mum sets up house in a small hotel, and the family embarks on a series of vivid and unusual adventures related to the reader through the young narrator's viewpoint.

Critics have noted the authenticity of Freud's narrative voice. Nigella Lawson, reviewing the work in the London Times, wrote that unlike some other autobiographical novels, Hideous Kinky "never descends to the level of the memoir-travelogue" and the voice of the narrator convincingly immerses the reader in her life. In the New York Review of Books, Kerry Fried also commented positively on Freud for "creat[ing] the unformed consciousness of a five-year-old without relying on an older narrator." This device allows Freud to expose adult absurdities in an ironic manner. Karen Karbo related in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that "the narrator's observations of adult behavior are brutally accurate, but her young age leaves her unable to perceive the implications." According to Karbo, the young girl's unsentimental account of Mum's blithely uncaring attitude about her own parents' ignorance of the fact that they have grandchildren is one such example. The narrator relays this information to the reader in a very straightforward manner, and Karbo felt that the child's inability to comprehend the lack of stability implied in the incident is an effective expose of the broken lifestyle of this family.

Although the girls accept the bizarre changes in their life with equanimity, they also yearn for a normal life that includes school, mashed potatoes, and candy bars. In contrast to this need for normalcy and order, Freud juxtaposes Mum's decisions to pursue spiritual freedom, her flightiness, and her casual disregard for the needs of her children. "The life of the young heroine," then, added Karbo, "does indeed seem a little hideous, a little kinky," and she felt Freud conveyed this to the reader without negating the love the family has for each other. Therefore, Karbo felt, at the end of the book the reader, though completely cognizant of the ironies of the tale, is also conscious of the fact that the two sisters will not completely regret their unusual childhood. Noting that Freud's book "impresses," Lawson noted "the clear, calm sound of an original new voice."

Freud's second book, Peerless Flats, set in 1970s London, relates the story of Lisa, a young teenager, who lives in an abandoned building called Peerless Flats with her mother and five-year-old half-brother. Lisa's older sister, Ruby, is a school dropout who works in a store selling sexual paraphernalia. Also woven into the narrative is Lisa and Ruby's estranged father, a racetrack gambler who visits his children intermittently. A reviewer in the New Yorker thought Freud skillfully depicted "complicated states of mind … with humor and affection." All three children are highly affected by the breakup of their family and manifest this fear in different ways: Ruby is a selfish drug addict who hides her fears from everyone; Lisa, an aspiring actress, looks at Ruby as a role-model and develops an eating disorder; and Max, the half-brother, continuously wears plastic armor. Shena Mackay, in her review of Peerless Flats in the Times Literary Supplement, called the work "bleak, almost a retrospective cautionary tale" that ends, however, on a hopeful note when the family finds another home. Mackay felt that with the publication of Peerless Flats Freud has successfully "cleared the notorious hurdle of the second novel" and can now "spur her talent on with justified ambition."

Freud followed Peerless Flats with Summer at Gaglow, another novel with autobiographical elements. The story focuses on four generations of a Jewish family through the course of the twentieth century. Freud alternates chapters between members at the beginning of the twentieth century with a few of their descendants at the century's end. The odd numbered chapters focus on the Belgards, who live in wealth in Germany just before World War I breaks out. Told from the point of view of Eva, one of four siblings, the family estate, named Gaglow, is eventually lost with their wealth and status during World War II. In the even numbered chapters, Freud explores the life of Sarah Linder, the granddaughter of Eva, who lives in London, and is single and pregnant. Reviewers have noted that Michael Linder, the father of Sarah, has similarities to Freud's own father, Lucian, including his profession as an artist. Such critics have seen the author herself in Sarah, who wants to be an actress. Reviewing Summer at Gaglow in the Los Angles Times, Michael Frank wrote "Summer at Glasgow is an uneven book, but at its best offers a vivid dose of time travel and manages to evoke a family's past with precise and compassionately reached truths." In contrast, Deborah Mason of the New York Times noted: "Esther Freud has written a shrewd and absorbing novel, a near-seamless meshing of family feeling, history and imagination."

Like Summer at Gaglow, The Sea House combines a story set in the past with one in the present. The story in the past focuses on German refugee Max Meyer, who stays in Steerborough, England, in the early 1950s. While visiting the seaside town, Max, then a painter, falls in love with a married woman, Elsa, the wife of architect Klaus Lehmann, also a German émigré. The Lehmanns's difficult relationship is seen through the eyes of Lily Brannan in the early 2000s. An architecture student, Lily is doing research on Klaus when she finds letters written by Klaus to his wife. She finds the couple's relationship not unlike her own problematic relationship with her boyfriend, architect Nick. Some aspects of the story and characters are based on real people and events in a community located in Suffolk, while the letters between Klaus and his wife are inspired by the correspondence of her grandfather, Ernst Freud, an architect. The critic in Kirkus Reviews noted: "Freud writes with elegance, intertwines many complex narrative threads with impressive skill, and limns her characters' psychological states with acuity."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2004, review of The Sea House, p. 52.

Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1998, Michael Frank, review of Summer at Gaglow, p. 5.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 21, 1992, Karen Karbo, review of Hideous Kinky, p. 11.

New Yorker, May 31, 1993, review of Peerless Flats, p. 167.

New York Review of Books, June 25, 1992, Kerry Fried, review of Hideous Kinky, p. 55.

New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1992, Sarah Ferguson, review of Hideous Kinky, p. 30; May 17, 1998, Deborah Mason, "Paradise Lost," review of Summer at Gaglow, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly, April 19, 2004, Wendy Smith, "Esther Freud: A Tale of House and Heritage," interview with Esther Freud, p. 34.

Times (London, England), January 30, 1992, Nigella Lawson, review of Hideous Kinky, p. 5.

Times Literary Supplement, February 19, 1993, Shena Mackay, review of Peerless Flats, p. 22.

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