In London, May 1945, outspoken and wilful twenty year old Freya Wyley meets shy eighteen year old Nancy Holdaway during the celebrations of VE Day. Automatically slipping into the roles of mentor and student, it is the start of a tumultuous friendship that will endure on and off for the next couple of decades.
Their friendship blossoms whilst they attend university and it is their individual entanglements with the charismatic Robert Cosway that will have resounding effects on their lives as well as their seemingly unbreakable friendship.
Studious, though lacking in confidence, Nancy has hopes of becoming a published author. Freya ends up dropping out of university to pursue a career in journalism which sees her pitted against the Fleet Street male chauvinism of the time as well as her own character flaws which end up rubbing some people up the wrong way.
As we follow Freya’s life the reader takes a journey from London to Oxford and back again, and the changing times as the 40s, 50s and 60s pass by with Freya’s connections branching out into the gaudy arts, seedy Soho scene and journalistic offices of the capital.
Freya is a captivating and complex character, and although in real life, I feel like she would not be someone I would necessarily warm to, in seeing the story from her angle made her for me, something of a feminist hero. She is outspoken, intelligent and quick-witted from the start, but she is also selfish and impulsive and so there is no shortage of drama in her life.
She has a lot to contend with given societal attitudes at the time regarding women in the workplace, sexism and homophobia, and so I liked the fact that she often stood up for herself and stuck to her guns on her own views.
Her journey, which is mostly set in London, illustrates not only societal changes but physical ones too, as London transforms gradually but in ways she doesn’t want to accept. I think that’s part of life in general as a rule, most things change in time, and stubborn Freya is forced to accommodate new things in her life.
Her friendship with Nancy is almost a love story in a way and highlights the kind of relationship that two people can have when they have experienced so much together. There are also a fabulous cast of equally interesting characters that come in and out of Freya’s circle including theatrical peacocks, sleazy artists, backstabbing friends and blackmailers.
Lots of big issues including race, homosexuality and gender are explored throughout the story so there is plenty for the reader to get stuck into. Intelligent, eloquent and engaging, Freya is a grand piece of storytelling that you can't help but get caught up in.