Review: Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

A young girl narrates a move to Morocco with her sister and mother.

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Read: Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

Stars: Four

Drinking: Earl Grey, Twinings

I read Hideous Kinky for a book club meeting that I was, unfortunately, unable to attend. This autobiographical novel is well-written and absorbing. A young girl narrates the story of her move to Marrakesh with her mother, sister, and her mother’s boyfriend and his wife. Unlike some books with child narrators, Hideous Kinky sticks to the limited view of a small girl who doesn’t necessarily understand what is going on but accepts the world as it is, although her sister wishes for a “normal” life.

A lot of the reviews of Hideous Kinky revolve around the apparent flakiness of the narrator’s mother in taking her daughters to Morocco and then taking lovers and experimenting with extreme religion. I actually sympathized with the mother. Maybe I’m also irresponsible, but the move was a good opportunity for the girls to be exposed to a different culture. Sure, the mother was trying to “find herself” while having to take care of two kids, and they didn’t always have money, but she clearly loved them and wanted them to be happy. To the point where she let the older daughter, Bea, stay behind in Marrakesh to go to school while she went to stay at a Sufi monastery with the younger. I don’t think I’ll ever take off for a different country with my lover and his wife and two small kids, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a slightly better-planned adventure.

The mother character is intriguing to me. She was clearly well-off but left her wealthy family to become a hippie nomad. Her children’s father is merely an inconsistent source of money. At one point she jokes that her own mother wouldn’t know she had kids had a family friend not seen them one day on the street. The mother certainly has her own struggles throughout the story, particularly with men:

Mum shifted me off her lap. ‘He knew where to write when we were at the hotel for months and months…’ She sneezed and then she began to cry. ‘He knew where to write then.’

Hideous Kinky is short but complex. Overall, the novel is well worth reading. A film based on the novel, starring Kate Winslet, was released in 1998.

Author: Lisa Fry

Freelance Writer & Editor. Book lover. Feminist. International development professional

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