On Freya by Anthony Quinn

I’m writing this as the sun begins to set outside, even though it’s only 5.30pm. The long light of summer is leaving, the cold coming, and with it the strong desire to cosy up in bed and read endlessly. I have envied my in-laws’ retirement this week while they’ve been staying at our place. They’ve had time to inhale novel after novel from my bookshelves; A God of Ruins by Kate Atkinson, Lost and Found by Brooke Davis, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, even good old Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. That life seems like a dream to me, and infinitely out of reach.

I did manage to get through one novel this week though, Freya by Anthony Quinn. I bought this book over Easter, on a ‘booksploration’ in Port Macquarie at one of my favourite book shops, Bookface. I was with my two-year-old niece who thinks every book in the world belongs to her, and every adult is someone who must read it to her (when she isn’t determined to read it to herself that is). Needless to say, I love her dearly for it. Freya’s cover immediately captured my attention- so simple and beautiful. I also recognised Anthony Quinn as the author of Curtain Call, which is one of those books I picked up and put back down so many times last year.

Freya is set in England from 1945 through to the 1960s. It follows Freya Wyley and her friend Nancy Holdaway as they celebrate the end of the war, head off to study at Oxford and their lives beyond. Freya is outspoken and ambitious for a 1950s woman. A budding journalist, she drops everything to follow the story of her life while Nancy struggles to have her first novel published. It’s a story of quiet rivalry between friends and the battles that must be fought and more-often lost by women of this era.

It’s an era I love to read about. We owe so much to the determination of post World War II women and their ability to fight for rights we take for granted today. I feel like there is a lot to be learned from them, if we take the time to absorb and to understand. This book covers much of the political concerns of the time; rights for women, homophobia, adultery and abortion, and Quinn weaves a wonderfully detailed story. It’s no page turner, rather a delicate novel that builds a story around you piece by piece, so that you almost feel as if you know Freya and Nancy, as if you are the third party to their friendship.

My only quibble is that everyone is so gosh-darn special. The characters are a bevy of eccentric authors, playwrights, politicians, journalists, actors, painters. They are highly educated, wealthy and influential. If it was a film, I would say that even Freya is a tad overacted.  At certain points I found myself asking, where are all the normal people? Surely not all of them could have graduated and become so important? It certainly wasn’t the case when I went to university (admittedly I didn’t go to Oxford). I remember also feeling this way when I read Life After Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I loved the story, but sometimes you just want to know what it was like to be average. Is there not a story in someone being average? Maybe not. Maybe that is what it means to escape into a novel. And I do love to escape.

Nevertheless, I loved Freya’s story and I realised when I was wandering the library shelves this morning that Curtain Call, Quinn’s previous novel, is the story of Jimmy Erskine, a writer who appears intermittently in Freya. I’m curious to know more, so I will be adding this one to my TBR pile for sure!

Amanda x

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