Peerless Flats

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Sixteen-year-old Lisa has high hopes of imitating her older sister Ruby during her first years in London. Ruby's shady past and rockabilly boyfriend indicate to Lisa a life lived to the fullest. But as her family's prospects start to look bleak, Lisa must reinvent herself as the only sane and sensible member of her family. Spare, elegant, and often funny, Peerless Flats is an unblinking and moving portrait of a pained adolescence in 1970s London.

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Overview

Sixteen-year-old Lisa has high hopes of imitating her older sister Ruby during her first years in London. Ruby's shady past and rockabilly boyfriend indicate to Lisa a life lived to the fullest. But as her family's prospects start to look bleak, Lisa must reinvent herself as the only sane and sensible member of her family. Spare, elegant, and often funny, Peerless Flats is an unblinking and moving portrait of a pained adolescence in 1970s London.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Freud's second novel is a powerfully unconventional portrait of a London teenager struggling to build a life in a broken family plagued by poverty and drugs. Sixteen-year-old Lisa inhabits a derelict building called Peerless Flats with her aimless mother and rambunctious half-brother. Shy and overly responsible, she has always lived in the shadow of her flamboyant older sister, Ruby, a heroin addict who is the obvious favorite of their father, a mysterious figure involved with racetrack gambling. Lisa, who wants to be an actress, tries desperately to make someone care for, or at least notice her. Living in a world where defeated people automatically turn to drugs and alcohol, she becomes obsessed with the thought that someone might slip LSD into her food or drink; eventually she stops eating altogether. Only by renewing her faith in those she loves can she be saved from self-inflicted starvation. Like its predecessor, Hideous Kinky , this novel is short on plot but strong on character and setting. Freud (daughter of painter Lucian and great-granddaughter of Sigmund) depicts in vividly immediate prose Lisa's deterioration as her pleas for love go unheard. With barely a nod to conventionally linear narrative structure, this unusual book is like a beautiful, disturbing painting that renders, on an intuitive level, a troubled young girl's soul. ( Apr. )
Library Journal
``Peerless Flats'' are temporary apartments for the homeless in London. Lisa, her mother, and her half-brother Max find themselves living in one of these flats while waiting for more permanent housing. After years of endless moves, 16-year-old Lisa longs for a permanent home--or at least she thinks she does. In searching for happiness and security, she tries drugs, sex, alcohol, college, anorexia, and acupuncture. When she suddenly discovers that her parents, though divorced, really do care about her, she begins to understand that a permanent home is not her first priority. Freud's prose is graphic, her dialog concise. The story jumps from adventure to adventure, with Lisa as the thread that sews the pieces together. A lesson in how a dysfunctional family might survive; recommended for public libraries.-- Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education, Providence
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880015929
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Esther Freud is the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud and the daughter of the painter Lucian Freud. She trained as an actress before writing her first novel. Her books have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in London.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Lisa, her mother and her brother Max were dogsitting for a woman called Bunny, who owned a house in the Archway. Bunny was away in America and was due back at any time.

Lisa's mother, Marguerite, went to the council when they first arrived in London. The council told her to come back when she was homeless. 'But we are homeless,' Marguerite had said. 'We're just not actually on the streets.' She explained about the dog who was an Alsatian and needed three meals a day.

The council said to come back when she was absolutely homeless. When there was no roof of any kind over her head.

Lisa walked round to see her sister Ruby. Ruby was living two streets away with a boy called Jimmy Bright who dressed like a rockabilly in a white T-shirt and brothel creepers and wore his hair greased into a quiff. Ruby said that most people were terrified of Jimmy Bright. Jimmy despised the human race, with the exception of Ruby. 'He won't mind you either,' she reassured Lisa, 'cos you're me lil' sis.' Ruby's accent had flourished in the two years since she left home and moved to London.

As Lisa walked up to Jimmy's flat, she could see Ruby sitting on the floor in a sea of crumpled clothes. It was a ground-floor flat that opened on to the street with a wall-sized sliding window. It was part of an entire row. Orange brick maisonettes with square, open gardens, and more were being built on the streets on either side. Jimmy didn't have curtains in his flat, and as Lisa approached through the derelict patch of garden, Ruby looked up and caught her eye.

'Hi, babe.' She didn't stir as Lisa slid the door.

'Where's Jimmy?' Lisa half expected him to rise up out of the debris and stop her in her tracks with his razor-sharp tongue.

'Dunno.'

Ruby was wearing a shirt with seven dwarfs all fucking each other on the front. Lisa sat and stared at it and wondered when it would get handed down to her. Everything Ruby had eventually got handed on to Lisa. Ruby was very generous with her things, while Lisa was a hoarder by nature and found it hard to part with almost anything. She had once kept a box of plain chocolates she had won at a raffle, and didn't like, on the top shelf of her cupboard for two years. Eventually they had been discovered and distributed to the family as an afterdinner treat. Lisa pretended to be angry but really she had been relieved.

'How's Mum?' Ruby asked.

'All right.'

Marguerite and Ruby rarely saw each other and when they did, more often than not they argued. Lisa acted as their go-between. It was since Ruby left home, Lisa thought. Or before: since their mother's marriage to Swan Henderson ... since Max was born ... since ... Lisa wasn't sure. She could remember Ruby and her mother getting on, somewhere in the distant past, but hard as she tried she couldn't place the memory.

Lisa had visited Ruby regularly in London while she waited for her sixteenth birthday. 'Don't tell Mum about this,' Ruby always ordered when they parted, and her mother's first question was inevitably, 'So how is Ruby getting along in London?'

Ruby was so unspecific as to what exactly she was to keep quiet about that Lisa never knew how to answer. 'Fine,' she said, and then at night she would lie awake, worrying that if something terrible happened to her sister, it would be her fault for withholding vital information. Now that Lisa was in London herself she understood why Ruby had come back to school for the Christmas Fair, only six months after leaving, talking and swearing like a native East Ender and wearing a T-shirt for a dress and heels so high she couldn't walk down the hill to the pub. There had been no shortage of lifts on offer. Cars Lisa had never seen before swung open their doors.

Ruby was meant to be in London on a History of Art course. By the end of the first term she had already dropped out and was working in a shop that sold bondage trousers and plastic shorts and shirts with one sleeve longer than the other. People were whispering that Ruby was on drugs. That she was having an affair with a Sex Pistol. That it was a sacrilege to cut off that beautiful waist-length hair. Lisa felt immeasurably proud.

Ruby stood up and began searching the floor. 'Bastard,' she said, 'he's taken me fags.'

Lisa had a packet of ten John Player Special in her pocket. She smoked John Player because they had a 'scratch and reveal' lottery in every packet ...

Peerless Flats. Copyright © by Esther Freud. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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