Freckles by Cecelia Ahern
Allegra Bird is known by many people as Freckles – her Spanish mother may have passed other things on to her, but her father gave her freckles. She has made the most of them in a way, compulsively drawing between five of them on her arm, scratching her skin as a girl at boarding school, consolations of stars scarred on her arm. Now, as an adult with some issues communicating with other humans, they make her different, along with several other things such as her job as a parking warden in a settlement on the edge of Dublin. Her rule keeping, her regular routines and secrets, surprises and twists make this a very enjoyable and engaging novel.
The main element is that Freckles, who narrates her own story, is told that everyone is shaped by five people, the five people who one spends most time with, who influences a person most. The trouble is, with all the challenges she faces, the way she has left her home on an island, her isolation in a bigger community, she is not sure she has five people. Even if she has, do they influence her in the right ways? After all, her unconventional, musical and eccentric father is back in the community she left behind in search of someone, something that she must discover. This book really grabs the reader, and I found it difficult to put down. Allegra is a memorable character, and those around her also have their idiosyncrasies which mark them out as very different in their own way. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this original, funny and touching book.
The book begins with Allegra as a lonely and homesick thirteen year old girl in a boarding school dormitory, compulsively using a pen to join the freckles on her arm. When ink is removed by a teaching nun, she uses sharp edges to mark her arm, less because of a desire to hurt than to think about the stars that she would observe with her father as part of their activities she enjoyed. Her desire to investigate and follow rules made her want to join the Gardai, the Irish police force, but she was disappointed in her ambition. Now she patrols Malahide, a suburban village outside Dublin, looking for parked cars that are breaking the rules. Her living arrangements are different, living in a small flat above a gym and studio in a private garden. It is cheap, but there are strings attached, including babysitting on demand for the successful and wealthy couple who own the big house. There are the people who she meets on her way to work, the bakery that she buys coffee from, the place she always sits to eat her lunch. She knows Spanner the baker and his woes, along with the homeless man he feeds every day. Paddy is her colleague, a tricky man with a largely secret life. There are others who she encounters regularly in her other surprising job. She discovers that she cannot go back to her past easily, and her present life has its problems.
This is a lively book which I greatly enjoyed for its fantastic characters and frequent surprises. Freckles/Allegra tries so hard to follow rules, her routine, what she can cope with, but struggles to cope with other people. It is a beautifully written, well paced book which I recommend for its contemporary style, lively observations, and its honest narration.