- two of its characters have synesthesia, a neurological condition which makes them perceive colour alongside particular emotions, letters or words (not that I’m a synesthete, but I find it a fascinating notion and slightly wish I had it myself)
- there are two sets of twins, each of which is troubled in a different way (I find twins fascinating and used to wish I was one as a child)
- the family central to the story are expatriate Americans, sent from Kansas to London for the husband’s career (I was an expat child, moving to the USA and Germany with my family for my father’s job)
The draw of these three features was enough to overcome my dislike of the crop that gives the novel its title, to which I’m intensely allergic!
The unusual cover promised a novel and an author that saw the world in a different and interesting way. My expectation was not disappointed – in fact, I couldn’t put this book down. It was the only thing to distract me from the General Election results that were being reported live as I was reading it.
Freund weaves a complex web of well-developed and likeable characters, and I found myself egging them on to resolve their various problems as they slowly unfolded. She writes well about the challenges of expat life, from the point of view of both adult and child, and at the same time, as the family adapt to their new home, raises important questions about the nature of family, home and belonging. She also writes sensitively about health issues, including an unusual genetic disorder affecting one of the characters.
The story wrapped up a little faster than I expected at the end, and there was the odd plot event that didn’t ring entirely true to me, but overall it was a very satisfying read. The conclusion was certainly satisfying, and the character development, from start to finish, was believable and gratifying.
By the way, I’d be very interested to know whether the author chose Kansas as the starting point as an allusion to The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s quest for the meaning of home and family. I’m sure a comparison of this book and the film would make a very interesting study!
I’d recommend this novel not only to anyone affected by or interested in the three issues that I raised at the start of this review, but also to anyone who fancies an intelligent, well-written and well-paced book with an unusual opening premise and setting. This is Freund’s debut novel, and I hope there will be many more of this calibre to follow.
PS I’ve just discovered that Nancy Freund is herself a synesthete. She may be amused by the notion that having finished reading her novel on the morning of the Conservative victory in the British General Election, for me, Rapeseed will now for me be forever associated with the colour blue.