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Summary

Bloomsbury presents I Couldn't Love You More by Esther Freud, read by Niamh Cusack.

An unforgettable novel of mothers and daughters, wives and muses, secrets and outright lies.

An Evening Standard Book of 2021.

Rosaleen is still a teenager, in the early '60s, when she meets the famous sculptor Felix Lichtman. Felix is dangerous, bohemian, everything she dreamed of in the cold nights at her Catholic boarding school. And at first their life together is glitteringly romantic – drinking in Soho, journeying to Marseilles. But it’s not long before Rosaleen finds herself fearfully, unexpectedly alone. Desperate, she seeks help from the only source she knows, the local priest, and is directed across the sea to Ireland on a journey that will seal her fate.

Kate lives in '90s London, stumbling through her unhappy marriage. But something has begun to stir in her. Close to breaking point, she sets off on a journey of her own, not knowing what she hopes to find.

Aoife sits at her husband’s bedside as he lies dying and tells him the story of their marriage. But there is a crucial part of the story missing, and time is running out. Aoife needs to know: what became of Rosaleen?

Spanning three generations of women, I Couldn’t Love You More is an unforgettable novel about love, motherhood, secrets and betrayal - and how only the truth can set us free.

©2021 Esther Freud (P)2021 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic reviews

"Beautiful, moving, wonderful.... Let me be the first (but not the last) to say I couldn’t love it more." (Sam Baker)

"I hugely enjoyed it. She is such a compelling writer, so good at evoking atmosphere." (Lynn Barber)

"I loved it. I loved its ambition and the dexterity with which it was done, its poignancy and truth. I hope it does brilliantly." (Elizabeth Buchan)

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Beautifully written and tender

I loved this tender and frequently heart-rending story of multi-faceted love in three generations of related women whose experiences alternate through the book beautifully read by Niamh Cusack.
The oldest woman is Aoife (Irish pronounced eefa) who fell in love with her husband Cash during the war and now sits by his sick bed in old age after a bullying, unhappy marriage, still hoping one day to know what happened to her lost child. Next is Rosaleen, 18 in the early 1960s, sweet and impressionable, who falls heavily and completely for Felix, an East European sculptor more than twice her age, who spoke the words of the title to her 'I couldn't love you more'. But, abandoned, it ends for Rosaleen in despair and agony with the Irish Sisters of "Mercy". The third generation is Kate in the 1990s living with her adored, demanding daughter Freya and her destructively alcoholic failed musician husband Matt. Struggling to find herself, she starts to investigate her unknown mother who had once given her up for adoption in the early 60s.

There's so much to enjoy in this book and the narration definitely adds delicacy and deepens the heart of it. Esther Freud's writing is poetic and lyrical, not in a fey way, but in tenderly - in a way the episodes in the novel are rather like movements in a piece of music.
The different experiences of love are explored with startling empathy as in Rosaleen's passion for much older Felix and for her newborn baby, or in the complex maternal love of Kate for her child and mixed love and loathing for her alcoholic husband. The sections with the Sisters of Mercy are almost too harrowing to bear: the pregnant girls being harshly punished for their sins and having their babies sold to couples who arrive in cars to collect the new baby they have paid for, the bottle of expressed mother's milk tucked inside its shawl.
The three women are delicately woven together, their stories intertwining. The ending (I won't spoil it) is beautifully crafted and both uplifting and realistic.

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