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Hideous Kinky

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Ignore the title Hideous Kinky — it’s the only false note in this original and ambitious first novel set in North Africa during the late ’60s. The narrator is a 5-year-old girl whose mother, armed only with a touching naïveté, an ability to endure a certain amount of squalor, and not very regular child support, has taken her two children to Marrakech.

Our heroine is sufficiently young to take everything at face value, but the reader knows enough to worry about the welfare of the children long before Mum all but abandons one of them during her Sufi phase. Although not malevolent, Mum is a dangerously free spirit, a quintessential ’60s character.

The self-conscious freedom of the ’60s is a subject on which many other writers have come to grief. Esther Freud (Sigmund Freud’s great-granddaughter) has, however, with discipline, technique, wit, and the ruthless elimination of the sentimental and the self-indulgent, written a novel as subtle and mysterious as a North African stew. A-

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