Annie Freud, Hiddensee – review

Freighted with heavyweight literary, philosophical and artistic allusions, Annie Freud’s Hiddensee is very much an intellectual’s book and a work of rare intellectual range. The internationalism of Freud’s mind is suggested by the way Hiddensee includes not only the original texts of poems by the French Swiss poet Jacques Tornay, faced by Freud’s translations into English, but also a number of her own original poems in French and a poem in Italian (also translated into English) that seems to be hers too. Given talent and intelligence of her own, such high-powered internationalism of outlook is perhaps to be expected of the daughter of Lucian Freud and the great granddaughter of Sigmund, who inspired a couple of pieces.

Freud is a painter herself, and it shows in the way she writes – she has a sharp eye for colour and shape and puts them to memorable use in many of the poems. Most of her descriptions are impressionistic but ‘The Lions of Chemo’ – one of a group of poems about cancer – sparkles with Surrealist fantasy, beginning ‘Perhaps the lions were distracted / by the sound of laughing women’. A number of the poems are playful, fantastic or experimental in different ways, sometimes glossed by notes. Others are straightforwardly personal or familial narratives, or intelligent and original reflections on art and artworks. The sheer variety of approach suggests ambition and restless vitality. However, the poems that spoke most to me tended to be ones driven more by feeling and human observation than by technical idea. Central here is ‘Hiddensee 1933 – An Epyllion’. This long poem in memory of Freud’s grandmother, who fled Germany in 1933 and had to make a new life as a refugee in England, is full of luminously evocative visual detail and poignant emotional touches. In many ways this is an interesting and admirable book. However, what I didn’t often find in Freud’s work was the rhythmic and syntactical momentum that makes Adcock’s and Vince’s writing so vividly alive as speech. Not everyone will find this a problem, but for me it meant that whole poems often didn’t add up to more than or as much as the sum of their striking parts.

Annie Freud, Hiddensee, 144 pp., £10.99, Picador, Pan Macmillan, 6 Briset Street, London EC1M 5NR

I would like to thank Ann and Peter Sansom and Suzannah Evans for permission to post this extract from my review of books by Fleur Adcock, Tishani Doshi, Annie Freud and Michael Vince in issue 66 of The North.

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