As a novelist Freud hits that tricky sweet spot between commercial and literary fiction and her novels are invariably a joy to read. She’s also a more daring writer than the popular success of Hideous Kinky might suggest. As she flits between alternating depictions of motherhood with sometimes disorientating speed — Aoife’s private torments over why Rosaleen hasn’t been in touch; Rosaleen binding her belly to conceal her condition; Kate up at six with her daughter while her boozy husband lies comatose on the sofa — she is economical with the details a lesser author might ply the reader with, and indulgent with those details others might consider superfluous. Parts of the story emerge slowly, almost slyly.
Family is often a mixed blessing in Freud’s novels; mothers benignly neglect children in London temporary accommodation (Peerless Flats) or hippy trail Morocco (Hideous Kinky); fathers dispense insufficient funds, emotionally and financially. In I Couldn’t Love You More, however, family becomes a fierce craving for those unwillingly wrenched from it. The men still vanish into illness, infidelity or booze, but these women exist at a very physical sharp end, Freud viscerally describing childbirth, pregnancy and milk coming in. As with Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers, set in 1960 in a different bohemia, Freud’s book unpicks the promise of liberation — who enjoys it, who pays the price. The sharp intimacy of the writing is sometimes blunted by the story’s overfamiliarity, bad nuns and stolen babies veering towards a kind of Call the Midwife gothic. Yet Freud’s story remains one worth telling, full of compassion and — regardless of what Haughey may have thought — a profound decency.