‘Rosaleen knew Felix Lichtman was dangerous. That was what she liked about him’
– I Couldn’t Love You More
[ About the Book ]
Rosaleen is still a teenager, in the early Sixties, when she meets the famous sculptor Felix Lichtman. Felix is dangerous, bohemian, everything she dreamed of in the cold nights at her Catholic boarding school. And at first their life together is glitteringly romantic – drinking in Soho, journeying to Marseilles. But it’s not long before Rosaleen finds herself fearfully, unexpectedly alone. Desperate, she seeks help from the only source she knows, the local priest, and is directed across the sea to Ireland on a journey that will seal her fate.
Kate lives in Nineties London, stumbling through her unhappy marriage. But something has begun to stir in her. Close to breaking point, she sets off on a journey of her own, not knowing what she hopes to find.
Aoife sits at her husband’s bedside as he lies dying, and tells him the story of their marriage. But there is a crucial part of the story missing and time is running out. Aoife needs to know: what became of Rosaleen?
Spanning three generations of women, I Couldn’t Love You More is an unforgettable novel about love, motherhood, secrets and betrayal – and how only the truth can set us free.
[ My Review ]
I Couldn’t Love You More by Esther Freud was published May 27th with Bloomsbury and is described as ‘an unforgettable novel of mothers and daughters, wives and muses, secrets and outright lies‘. It’s a book that I knew would have an impact on me, as a large part of the story is set in Cork, highlighting the harrowing plight of unmarried mothers in Ireland, including the now renowned mother and baby home at Bessborough in Cork City. Esther Freud was very much inspired by her own personal experience as her mother was born into a Catholic Irish family having spent many years in boarding schools, including Cork, before heading for the bright lights of London as a young girl. There she met Lucian Freud and had two children. Following a break-up of her relationship, she set sail for Morocco. Esther Freud and her sister only met her Irish grandparents years later and were given a welcome into their Co. Cork home, spending many happy holidays there on the farm over the years. But Esther Freud always wondered what would have happened had her mother remained in Ireland, unmarried and pregnant. Would a mother and baby home have been the only choice? I Couldn’t Love You More was the blank canvas that allowed Esther Freud to create a different future for a young girl who did find herself in a very harrowing situation.
I Couldn’t Love You More spans three generations interweaving the stories of three women, Aoife, Rosaleen and Kate.
Aoife is sitting with her husband, Cashel, by his bedside as he slowly slips away. She talks to him continuously of their years together, both the good and the bad but for Aoife there is one very important piece to the jigsaw of their lives that she has never been able to find. She is hoping for peace and finality in these last few days with her husband, hoping that her questions will somehow be answered. She recalls how she met Cashel in the 1930s and how, eventually, they returned to Co Cork, settling on a farm near the seaside town of Youghal. She reminisces over the days when their family unit was impenetrable and how in later years it shattered around them. Aoife finally needs to know the truth but can she get the closure she so craves?
Rosaleen, a young girl exuberant with the excitement of youth, fell in love with a man who would change the course of her life forever. When her parents made a decision to return to Ireland from the UK, Rosaleen never settled and, as soon as her education was completed, she returned to London and back into the arms of Felix Lichtman. He was a passionate sculptor and his ardour for Rosaleen expanded her mind. She was very much in love with Felix and believed that he felt the same way too. But, unexpectedly, Rosaleen found herself alone. Born and reared a Catholic, Rosaleen confided in the parish priest and was soon on a boat to Cork where a heart-breaking decision was made.
Kate is caught up in a very fractured marriage. Her husband is an alcoholic but will not admit it and Kate is struggling. She is constantly on edge trying to keep her young daughter away from the behaviour of her father when he reaches for another can of beer or crashes through the front door at some late hour. Kate knows that there is a mystery surrounding her very early years and now, with her personal life imploding, she decides the time has come to make some changes and to finally unlock the secrets of her past.
Esther Freud delves into a part of Irish history that is both shameful and very disturbing. Young girls were treated inhumanely, with the number of lives shattered incomprehensible to most of us today. Aoife, Rosaleen and Kate are three strong women, all having experienced very tough challenges, but remaining courageous throughout. Their stories are beautifully told with a method of writing that is quite unique. Moving between the characters does need a little focus at the beginning but after a bit it is very easy to get into the flow of Esther Freud’s style.
I Couldn’t Love You More is a very emotional and affecting read. Esther Freud has written a story that is both beautiful and shocking, a captivating tale of secrets and lies, of passion and regrets. A truly thought-provoking novel.
[ Bio ]
Esther Freud trained as an actress before writing her first novel, Hideous Kinky, which was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys prize and made into a film starring Kate Winslet. After publishing her second novel, Peerless Flats, she was chosen as one of Granta’s Best Young British novelists.
Her other books include The Sea House, Lucky Break, and Mr Mac and Me, which won Best Novel in the East Anglian Book Awards.
She contributes regularly to newspapers and magazines, and teaches creative writing with her own local group. Her first full length play Stitchers was produced at the Jermyn St Theatre in 2018, and in 2019 she was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
I Couldn’t Love You More is her ninth novel.
She lives in London.