Mr Mac and Me

Written by Esther Freud
Review by Laura Shepperson

One should never judge a book by its cover. The cover to Mr Mac and Me, a fictionalisation of the time Charles Rennie Macintosh and his wife spent in Suffolk during World War I, is a stylised depiction of flowers adapted from Rennie Macintosh’s own work, creating context for his artistic activity throughout the novel. The cover is elegant and precise, much like Esther Freud’s prose.

However, both cover and title are also misleading, as anyone looking for a book about Rennie Macintosh’s time in Suffolk, culminating in his imprisonment as a suspected war spy, would be better to look elsewhere. Instead, the “me” of the title, Thomas Maggs, the “crippled” son of the local publican, is in the forefront, and it is his family and his gradual understanding about love, war and life over the course of a year, that are the focus of this novel.

Mr Mac and Me is a coming of age novel with a backdrop of war and art. At the beginning of the story Thomas states his desire to show “that I am useful after all”, and the novel follows him as he learns how he might achieve this despite his “twisted foot” and the greater tragedy of the war. Throughout the year Mr Mac hovers in the background and occasionally comes to the foreground, the man who makes the most of his time and his art despite being an architect when wartime means “there are to be no new buildings”. By the end of the novel the reader feels, like Thomas Maggs, that while she has only been shown brief glimpses of the life and work of Rennie Macintosh and his wife, “Mrs Mac” or fellow artist Margaret Macdonald, those flashes of life can hide a great beauty.