Reading Love Notes for Freddie reminded me of my earliest experiences with reading when I would lose whole afternoons caught up in the worlds of English school girls that were at once familiar and far removed from my own experiences. It wasn’t only the characters and plots that drew me in, it was also the language. Simple, yet descriptive; credibly standard and correct without sounding forced. That’s what I first remarked about this book – it is very well-written. Some might think it old-fashioned, but I appreciated the use of language and conventions that clearly represented scenes, characters, thoughts, actions, and words, without needing to be trendy, innovative, rude, or intimate. The language, style, and format of the novel truly mirrored the times and conventions of the 1960s-70s era in which it is set.
The parallel stories of Marnie, a teen-aged school girl caught up in the confusion and wonder of understanding her identity, her sexuality, her family, and her relationships, and her maths teacher Miss Crewe, allow us to glimpse a universality of female experience in the western world. The gentle exploration of current themes in a not-too-distant past shows us both how far our society has come (and how far it still has to go).
Marnie is a 16-year-old English math prodigy. She’s insulated in a private school life with a former dancer-turned teacher as a model of possibilities. It is not however, until Marnie is quite unexpectedly expelled from school, that she truly has the opportunity to discover life – its promises and its pitfalls. She is spectacularly naïve and makes the mistakes that many of us do –doubting our own abilities and worth, falling for an unattainable first love, seeking solace in drink or drugs, rebelling against norms and expectations without having a full sense of others’ points of view. It is sometimes frustrating to watch her and you wish you could just step into the pages and give her a good talking to. Since you can’t, though, you rely on Miss Crewe, who unfortunately, isn’t quite up to the task.
The Canadian Miss Crewe is the more grown up version of Marnie. Also a bit of a maths geek, she came to that and teaching after an injury robbed her of what was, at best, a lack-lustre attempt at a career as a dancer. Forsaken by her first love, Miss Crewe has spent a lifetime repeating the mistakes we see in Marnie, especially when it comes to love. You hope that as she sees Marnie’s struggles, that she will see herself and come to some epiphany she can share with Marnie, but she doesn’t. While she understands some of Marnie’s struggle, she wallows to much in her own unhappiness to be helpful. However, when she starts teaching dance to Marnie’s love interest, Freddie, a new spark of life is ignited in all of them.
Through Marnie, Miss Crewe, their shared friend, Freddie, and other fully developed characters Love Notes for Freddie subtly explores several serious themes. Some are explicitly detailed, others are more nuanced. Societal attitudes towards women, homosexuality, and class differences are reflected as realities of the time; issues of self-esteem, alcohol abuse, and family relationships are eerily more contemporary. In some cases, the treatment of these themes was unsatisfying; nevertheless, it provoked thought and reflection.
So, while slightly imperfect, Love Notes for Freddie was an enjoyable read overall, and I am happy to recommend it