In the winter of 1922 Edith Waters and her younger lover, Freddy Bywaters, were found guilty of murdering Percy Waters, Edith's boorish husband. The two lovers were executed in a whirl of publicity in 1923. The case caused a sensation, a crime of passion that gripped the nation's imagination and became the raw material for Jill Dawson's sensual and captivating novel Fred and Edie
, a fictional account of the lovers' romance and their subsequent trial, predominantly told through Edie's imaginary letters addressed to her lover, "Darlint Freddie". This is a remarkable novel, that brilliantly evokes the suburban world of 1920s London (T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land
, published the same year as the trial, runs like a leitmotif throughout the novel). Edie, viewed from the public gallery as "silly, vain" is a superb literary creation--sensual, intelligent, articulate and liberated, bitterly denouncing in her letters to Freddy a world that denies "that our love might be a real love, on a par with other great loves. That just because you are from Norwood and work as a ship's laundry man and I grew up in Stamford Hill and read a certain kind of novel, we are not capable of true emotions, of having feelings and experiences that matter
Dawson's novel gradually reveals that Edie's "crime" is actually her articulate, contradictory and assertive femininity. "I am not all sweetness and light" she insists, but it is her independent behaviour that ultimately stands trial, as Freddy becomes an increasingly enigmatic and questionable figure on the margins of the novel. Elegantly written and carefully researched, Fred and Edie is as passionate and assured as the tragic heroine it portrays. --Jerry Brotton
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From Publishers Weekly
Dawson's third novel (after Tricks of the Light and Magpie) strikingly and elegantly blends fact and fiction in a reimagining of the events surrounding the spectacular 1922 London trial of Edith Thompson and her lover, Frederick Bywaters, who were convicted and hanged for murdering Edith's husband, Percy. Told primarily in letters Edie writes to her "darlint" Freddy while they are both imprisoned, the story offers a moving portrait of domestic tragedy and an understated but penetrating social commentary. Actual newspaper accounts and a few excerpts from the real Edith Thompson's letters are interspersed throughout; ironically, perhaps, they are less interesting less convincing, even than the fictional material Dawson attributes to Edie. Defiant, intelligent Edie finds solace in writing and in reliving her doomed but passionate affair with Freddy, a ship's steward seven years her junior who had been her sister's "paramour" first. Her language full of longing, rich with metaphor is stunning, and her increasing understanding of brutish Percy, callow Freddy, herself and human nature in general is almost redemptive. In a letter that Freddy never receives, she writes: "We had our happiness didn't we, the light might shine through it sometimes but it was green and fresh and unbending as a blade of grass, wasn't it, Freddy, while it lasted?" It is a testimony to Dawson's abilities that even though the novel must advance toward an inevitable conclusion, its story is gripping, surprising and beautiful. 5-city author tour, national advertising. (Sept.)Forecast: This title was a finalist for the Whitbread Prize; a film (Another Life) based on the same incidents premiered in the U.K. and is scheduled for U.S. release this year. Though set 80 years ago in England, the novel should draw a contemporary American audience given the controversy that continues to surround the issue of capital punishment.
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