by Esther Freud
Hideous Kinky her first novel, established Esther Freud as a warm and witty writer. Her latest, Lucky Break traces a group of acting students from their first class in 1992 right through to 2006. It concentrates on four people: – Nell Gilby, 5’3”, the Ugly Duckling. Charlotte (Charlie) Adedayo-Martin the most beautiful girl in the year – tall and angular with toffee-coloured skin, almond eyes and peroxide hair cropped short. Dan Linden, ambitious but of moderate talent and Jemma, a girl of moderate ambition only. She traces the ups and downs of their relationships and careers. The school, Drama Arts, is modelled on Drama Centre, Chalk Farm, whose best known Alumni include Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan and prides itself on a mixture of Stanislavsky and ‘Tough Love’. Nell has a crush on Dan but Dan soon gets together with Jemma. Nell is reckoned by the school not to have what it takes and is asked to leave after her second year. Charlie seems destined to be a future star. It is an episodic novel with alternate chapters devoted to its four principals. In the early chapters there is a lot of scene setting, sitting about in pubs etc. There is a chapter called ‘The Festival’ when Nell goes to Edinburgh where nothing happens. It is yet another superfluous scene setter. It is only much later on in the post Drama Arts working world that the characters blossom and the novel expands. Nell works as a Solicitors Clerk while still pursuing acting jobs and goes for an interview with a Golden Globe winning film director, a cross between Russ Meyer and George A Romero and he makes a predictable lunge, though the chapter entitled, ‘The Other Girl’ where Nell nervously waits for a phone call from her latest Agent is beautifully judged. Nell’s story is ultimately the most satisfying and her fairy tale ending is totally deserved. Charlie starts out as a beautiful swan but has diet and looks issues. She is up for a an unappetising part as a Headmistress but she goes walkabout from the interview and stops at a flower stall, Roses in veils of spray, tulips, tightly bundled, sophisticated in burgundy and white, their more lurid, ragged cousins razor-edged in orange. Later, she seeks solace in Reiki healing and thus unexpectedly finds a way to calm her life. Dan dreams of working with Scarlett Johannson but it doesn’t happen. Dan walked twice round the block to shake all thoughts of his family off. Was it possible to be a great actor, and still be loyal to your wife? The big roles pass him by. While he is at a meeting for a role in Los Angeles the casting director is more interested in casting his 6 year old daughter. Back in London he gets cast in a stage play and expects the worst but it becomes a huge hit. He always worries about getting involved with his leading ladies but doesn’t and stays contendedly married to Jemma with their four children. There are few surprises in this lesirely paced novel and what happens is predictable. Like life, I suppose. The writer’s warmth and affection for the characters is clear. The Actor’s life is indeed a strange one. To have many months between jobs and the familiar refrain when coming to the end of a run, I’ll probably never work again. Pretending to be the imagined people of one person who has spent a year typing them out is a precarious way to live. The full satisfaction for the Actor during a successful play’s run and the awful emptiness of its aftermath are very well captured. A curate’s egg.