In Freya the leading character is the bolshy 12-year old daughter of Stephen Wyley, who figures briefly in Curtain Call. This follow-on book tells of Freya’s life, and particularly her relationships, from the immediate post-war years through to the early 1960s.
The main theme is the twists and turns of Freya’s friendship with Nancy Holdaway, whom she meets on VE Day 1945. They find themselves as students at Oxford in the late 1940s, and each becomes embroiled in turn with untrustworthy Robert Cosway. I will say no more about him for fear of giving away the narrative. Freya is as assertive and highly-sexed as Nancy is un-self-confident and cautious. As a mere male I found Anthony Quinn’s treatment of his female characters particularly impressive. Freya is also dotted with other memorable characters who help to shape the plot and give it a certain sexual charge, chief among them Nathaniel Fane, theatre critic, minor playwright and major narcissist. (“They asked me to write a piece on my ten favourite plays, my dear. Couldn’t do it – I’ve only written five.”) As in Curtain Call, Quinn’s coverage of social and historical background is utterly convincing, and this time is sustained over a twenty-year span: to single out just three periods, post-war student Oxford, the Nüremberg trials, and the male-dominated world of the press in the 1950s.
Suffusing both novels is Quinn’s beautiful, elegant prose. If you want to read 21st century English at its most accomplished, look no further.
I will mention also that Freya was one of our book group’s choices in 2018. The character of Freya aroused strong dislike in some members and strong admiration in others. Freya is thus a good choice if you want to provoke discussion!
Bob Young, January 2019