Not many books that I’ve come across are written from a child’s perspective, but Hideous Kinky is a rare, and rather good, exception.

However, before I go any further, let me address the issue of the title, lest anyone be put off unnecessarily: This book contains nothing that is remotely hideous or kinky. Rest assured, it is not that sort of book.

So, what gives? Well, since you ask, it turns out that ‘hideous’ and ‘kinky’ are simply two of the very few words that our young narrator and her sister have ever heard their mother’s almost entirely silent friend Maretta speak. The two sisters subsequently clung on to these strange sounding words, repeating them now and then in a kind of childish chant. Hideous. Kinky. Hideous. Kinky. Hideous. Kinky.

Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

The book paints a picture of the author’s unconventional childhood, or rather, a year or so of it that was spent travelling around Morocco with her bohemian mother (called Julia in the text) and her older sister, Bea. There is no plot to speak of, rather the book is episodic in structure, being really just a loosely connected series of memories. However, the text is fantastic to read. It is lively and enjoyable and deceptively simple, yet I think Esther Freud has shown great art in the writing.

We are so used to reading narratives written by adults, so reading an account from the perspective of a young child really is noticeably different. For one thing, we are left in the dark about many details we would ordinarily expect to be given. For example, no date is ever provided (though I’m guessing the trip took place in the 1960s). Similarly, we never learn our narrator’s age (the text hints at her being four or five, but is sufficiently ambiguous that it is impossible to know for certain). Various other facts, such as who her father is, what their life was like back in England, and how her mother met all these strange characters, remain equally unexplained.

What does come across is all the things of interest to a young child: the smells, the sounds, the treats and the sense of danger and adventure. The conversations recorded in the book are also wonderfully child-like. Here is a brief snippet, where our narrator is missing some home comforts, and starts to entreat her mother:

“When we go home, can we live in a house with a garden?”
“All right.”
“Do you mean all right yes or all right maybe?”
“I mean, all right hopefully”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this short book. It makes you envious of this kind of free-spirited, adventurous childhood (although perhaps not with a mother quite so irresponsible as Julia).

Finally, some trivia:

Esther Freud is the daughter of the late British painter Lucian Freud and Bernadine Coverley. She is also the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud. This makes Esther one of at least 14 children confirmed to have been fathered by Lucian Freud (and there are claims he fathered up to 40!)

Oh, and whilst looking up some information about Esther Freud, I stumbled across the following quote, which I think gives a good flavour of the author’s noble approach in this book:

“Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.”

If you liked this, you might also enjoy: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.

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