Review: Cecelia Ahern’s ‘Freckles’ is a departure from the romance writer’s usual genre

Allegra ‘Freckles’ Bird.

Inflexible. Obsessive. Meticulous. Disconnected.

Is this all she is? And if so, what does it say about the people around her?

‘You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’

As Freckles starts to obsess about the throwaway phrase tossed at her in the heat of an argument, we have to admit, the people around Freckles in this novel aren’t the loveliest bunch (not even Freckles herself). Desperate to connect with the mother who left her as a baby, we walk in Freckle’s shoes through the 340 pages of Cecelia Ahern’s latest book and slowly see the world through her oddly astute and simultaneously oblivious eyes.

 A departure from her usual romantic reads, Freckles shows us a side of Ahern few readers have seen before and it’s refreshing to see her trying something new. Ahern seems to have been inspired by the recent wave of Irish women writers penning their strange, vaguely unlikeable, and turbulent female characters. Freckles kept reminding me of Louise Nealon’s Debbie from ‘Snowflake’, a country girl adrift in the big city and tortured by a heightened interior life that she can’t escape from.  

In many ways, Freckles is like anyone in their mid-twenties: Struggling to figure out their identity, stuck in a career that’s a step or two away from where she really wants to be, feeling isolated and striving for meaning and connection. She masks these internal struggles well though, pushing the dark thoughts away by sticking to her unflinching routine to the point of rudeness – up every morning to walk her beat as a traffic warden, breakfast of waffles and sugar, pass the same running man at the same spot every day, to return home to her granny flat and sit alone for the evening.

But a chance encounter and argument with a complete stranger turns Freckles’ rigid life upside down, bringing all the chaos that was bubbling under the surface of her unruffled exterior to the fore.

‘You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’

Freckles obsesses over the words for the rest of the novel as she grapples with not only self-identity, but self-worth in the ageless struggle of those finding themselves. Ahern’s rendering of this world as seen through the lens of Freckles anxious eyes makes for an uncomfortable but undeniably well-written experience. The world is almost dulled by her lack of connection to it or anyone in it and Dublin is made claustrophobic through her sometimes suffocatingly lonely gaze.

This is a slow-moving novel, in the best of ways, because it’s more a slow character study of the wonderfully human but disconnected Freckles. We unpeel the layers of her as she makes desperate forays to find five people who can influence her life for the better, yet never seeming conclude that she could take responsibility for bettering her own life. She reads people like maps, as if there’s a formula to likeability (something we’ve probably all tried at some stage) and mimics their words, phrases, seeing what others miss and yet missing what everyone else sees.

A life marked by almosts, we travel through this identity crisis with Freckles as one of her five people, even if she doesn’t realise it, in Ahern’s masterful portrait of a woman searching for herself in others.

Published by Harper Collins and availabe to buy here.