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Hideous Kinky Hardcover – July, 1992


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"Things You Won't Say" by Sarah Pekkanen
From best-selling author Sarah Pekkanen, comes a compelling novel of a woman who will do whatever it takes to hold her family together. Learn more | See all by author

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Hideous Kinky begins as a small, cheerful autobiographical novel following Thurber's variation on Wordsworth: "Humor is emotional chaos recollected in tranquillity." In the mid-1960s, two girls, ages 5 and 7, travel with their mother from London to Marrakech. Also along for the ride are John, Mum's boyfriend, and Maretta, John's wife. Though the author is a descendant of Sigmund Freud, the title of her first book has little to do with the pleasure principle. Instead, it is the only phrase the sisters have heard Maretta speak, one that quickly becomes an all-purpose epithet: "One of the shepherds whistled and the dogs slung to the ground. Bea raised an eyebrow as she passed me. 'Hideous kinky,' she whispered." Esther Freud's vocabulary and tone veer easily from the childlike to the more sophisticated, particularly when she recounts speech or circumstances beyond a child's comprehension.

Once the group arrives in Marrakech, John and Maretta split off, and Mum hooks up with various men and pursues spirituality. The children, meanwhile, want nothing more than to be normal--or at least not to be so embarrassed by their mother's Islamic fervor: "'Oh Mum, please...' I was prepared to beg. 'Please don't be a Sufi.'" In Hideous Kinky, people appear and disappear with little reason or explanation. Though most of the characters are differentiated by one outstanding feature, Bilal, the itinerant builder and magician's apprentice who becomes one of Mum's lovers, is more complex. The narrator loves and trusts him from the start, and when she asks him if he will eventually return to England with them, "Bilal closed his eyes and began to hum along with Om Kalsoum, whose voice crackled and wept through a radio in the back of the café."

Hideous Kinky is curiously divided. The first half is a lark. The girls explore Marrakech, picking up the language and even passing themselves off as beggars. The family's only worries are about money, and these are soon cured by the next bank draft from their father. But the second half is more melancholy. Mum's religious zeal becomes rather less endearing, and as the girls' adventures turn more dangerous, local rituals and customs begin to lose their charm: "I didn't like to think about the camel festival. The camel, garlanded in flowers, collected us from our house in the Mellah, and we had followed it out of the city and high into the mountains in a procession of singing." The parade ends, however, with the animal's beheading. "Occasionally I looked at Bea to see if she was running over these events like I was, the sound effects living their own life behind her eyes, but she gave nothing away."

In the end, Hideous Kinky is a novel less about an exotic country seen through an innocent's eyes than about family, about having a deeply embarrassing mother, an older sister who does everything before you, and a distant father. It escapes sentimentality through simplicity: "Bilal was my Dad. No one denied it when I said so." The author, her sister, and her mother spent two years in Morocco, and while Esther Freud may not have invented her subject, she has re-created it with a light touch and delicate irony. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this semi-autobiographical novel based on her own childhood, Freud (Summer at Gaglow), tells the story of Julia, a hippie mother traveling with her young daughters, Lucia and Bea, through North Africa in the 1960s. (The girls, true to their impish nature, love to use the words "hideous" and "kinky.") Events are described through the eyes of five-year-old Lucia, and therefore rely more intensely on sensations than on concrete details. This experiential quality translates well to audio in Freud's tenderly evocative reading. As the family travels from Tangier to Marrakech, by rail and sometimes hitchhiking, Lucia gives her child's-eye impressions of street performers, beggars and holy men. As audio, the telling is richly atmospheric and exotic, with a strong undercurrent of wistfulness that comes from a little girl always questioning her mother's actions. Based on the 1992 Pillar hardcover. (Apr.) FYI: A movie based on the book, directed by Gillies MacKinnon and starring Kate Winslet as Julia, recently opened in theaters.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 186 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (July 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151402167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151402168
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,301,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is interesting from beginning to end -- a wonderful story that is very enjoyable to read. The perspective from which it is written (through the eyes of a five-year-old) enables us to see and experience life a little differently, and that is unique. It is well written, and the characters are all richly drawn and memorable. I found it to be touching, funny, sad in parts, and very moving. I read a lot of books, and have not come across such a strikingly good one in quite a while. I didn't want it to end.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jedidiah Carosaari VINE VOICE on August 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
I first saw this as the movie, and then ran into it in a bookshop in Morocco. It's a very different story than the movie. More intense, less Hollywood, and more effectively the story of a child, rather than the story of Kate Winslet, movie star.

The story therefore is a bit hard to follow, as it's the perspective of a six-year old. But once you relax into that persona, Freud writes amazingly well from the perspective of a six-year old. I would imagine a child traveling through Morocco as her mother looks for money and spiritual guidance would react and feel exactly this way. The initial story about the mother's friend who is sick seems tangential- but then, the point is the perspectives of a child.

Living here in Morocco, I can also attest that Freud has hit the country and culture spot on. She accurately describes the bilad, the country, and Marraksh, and the border entry. For those looking for a story to reveal the true Morocco, from a Westerner's perspective, this is one of the better books out there.

This is a beautiful story of awareness, of the wants and needs, of being a child. For a moment, as you read this book, you too may become as one, seeing everything with the needs of the moment, and the desires of the heart.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on September 18, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Freud used the facts of her own bizarre childhood to craft this kinky and pretty darned sad novel of Julia, a hippie mom rambling through North Africa with her two young daughters in those hazy, lazy Hippie years of the 60s. The story is told exclusively through the voice of 5yo Lucia, so the whole odd event is full of images, hints, suspicious, limited observations, and wishes more than on concrete facts. Mom's lovers and the neighborhood street performers, missionaries, beggars, hashish, henna, and holy men add to the exotic atmosphere of this book. The child is mother to the adult for most of the movie, and Lucia yearns for nothing so much as a normal mum to take care of her and send her to school and help her with her homework. Instead, Mum goes off to seek Sufi enlightenment - and comes very close to misplacing one of her children forever.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Reine des Coeurs VINE VOICE on June 11, 1998
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is absolutely enchanting book full of colors and spice, showing us not only the adventures of a mother and her daughters on a trek of self discovery through Morocco, but also the panorama of a country that was the Mecca of the hippie movement of the 70's. It is a vivid recollection of said adventure, seen from the point of view of a 5 year old child.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Hazel on June 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Hideous Kinky" is a superb book in two respects; firstly, in its narration. Permitting the reader to see the world through the eyes of a five year old is a rare treat at any given time, but when the world viewed is one as beautiful and exotic as Morroco, North Africa, the book becomes a modern classic. The second reason that I rate this book so highly is the storyline, and the issues it raises. Does the mother act in love or in selfishness, is the journey to Morrocco one of free will and love or a rash act of irresponsibilty? The reader will make his or her mind up, while treasuring the visions of North Africa through the eyes of a little girl
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
I definitely enjoyed this book, which was a quick read at 186 pages. It was atmospheric and I felt I had had an adventure when finished. The story stays with you. But I also felt like I'd read the Cliff Notes to the book. I felt like I was ready to move on to the "real" story. With many of the characters, I wondered who these people were and why they were doing what they were doing. Yes, the story is from a child's point of view, but having characters drift in and out, be troubled and do strange things without explanation was curious and unsatisfying. Perhaps you need to know the author's background to fully enjoy the sparsely filled-out story. I didn't know, and I was left a little dissatisfied because of this.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By iga2000 on May 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
I'm reading this book at the moment. I think it is written well, but there isn't much of a plot so far, and seeing as i'm nearly at the end, i don't think it will pick up soon. The story is told through the experiences of a young girl, traveling with her Mother around morocco. While at times you really do get a sense of the places and the people, its not as good as I expected. Actually I do find it a bit over-hyped and think there are better books out there. So in summary, not bad, but not riveting.
If you like more action and plot, don't go for it. And if you like well written books that appeal to the senses, CHOCOLAT is miles better.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
"Through the eyes of a child / You will learn how to see.."
I saw the film when it opened at the Seven Gables last Friday. Now I'm looking forward to the book.
I loved Kate Winslett's luminous portrayal of winsome, clueless Mum, and admired her plucky young daughters for matter-of-factly living with the chaos until she woke from her quixotic dream.
"Then the tide rushes in / And washes my castles away.."
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