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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
From the moment you start to read Edie's letters from prison to her lover Fred (who has murdered her husband), there's a dreadful feeling that she's not going to have the happy ending she keeps predicting. The way Edie constantly forgives her young lover for his crime combined with her gentle tellings-off, are incredibly poignant. Fred is very young and there is a sense that he does not understand how marriages work or what Edie really wanted. All this is very cleverly conveyed via Edie's letters.

I absolutely loved this book, it's beautifully written and I was captivated by Edie and Fred and their love affair from the beginning to the tragic, but inevitable end. It prompted me to research the real story of Edith Thompson and Fred Bywaters and in this case truth really is stranger and even more sad than fiction. The only reason I didn't give the book five stars is that in real life Fred was incredibly loyal to Edie, and a victim of her fantasies, whereas in the book you get the impression that he was a bit weak and selfish and I don't think he deserves that.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
In Fred & Edie Jill Dawson performs two bits of contradictory magic. She shows that, at the centre of all extraordinary events, are ordinary people, like you or I; and that ordinary people, like you or I, are nevertheless extraordinary.
Edie, the novel's narrator (who was executed, with Freddy Bywaters, her lover, for the murder of her husband in 1923), is both utterly compelling and utterly authentic, so that it comes as a real surprise, to stumble on the end notes and find that Jill Dawson has used so little material from her actual letters and woven them so seamlessly into a voice which is almost pure invention.
And this is one of the things which makes the novel works so well. Though the story was widely written about at the time, Jill Dawson uses only a few scattered details of historical research (a handful of newspaper reports, a parlour game, a dress, a Punch and Judy show...) and concentrates on getting inside the mind of this sensual, adventurous, excitable woman trapped in a loveless suburban marriage.
She is particularly good at describing (through Edie's voice) the prickly, restless discomfort of sexual desire and the act of sex itself, two areas where most novels are either embarrassing or clumsy.
Most readers seem to have taken the book as an indictment of the system that executed Edith Thompson and assumed that she was innocent of her husband's murder (which she may well have been). But the novel is subtler than this. The Edie that Jill Dawson has recreated is capable of great self-awareness, but she is also capable of great self-deception (we know, long before she does, that the dangling black shape she keeps seeing out of the corner of her eye is the hangman's noose). And the book is all the richer for its refusal to give a neat answer to this uncomfortable question.
Perhaps the best measure of Jill Dawson's success is that even though you know exactly how the story is going to end, you rapidly become so caught up in the reality of Edie's life that you approach the last few pages hoping desperately for the happy ending you know is not going to arrive.
A little masterpiece.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2007
Follows the trial of Edith Thompson and Fred Bywaters, both accused of the murder of Thompson's husband. Dawson writes Thompson so beautifully, giving her every sense of emotion that a woman in love has. Using excerts from Edie's own letters to Fred, it makes for compelling reading. There is passion in her writing and the description of Fred and Edies sexual encounters sizzle from the page with passion, yet reel you into the emotion and love that they had for each other. As a reader you are gripped right up until the end when your heart sinks as you turn the last pages and feel the pain and sadness that Edie went through having been a victim of the British Justice system and indeed of her time. Dawson does an exellent job in making you relate to Edie's desperation and foolishness. Her story will stay with you for some time. A recommended novel for anyone wishing to be gripped once more by literature.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2000
Fred and Edie is a moving account of how a woman's sexual transgressions ended with her being one of the last women to be hanged in Britain. The fact that this novel is based on real events makes this story all the more poignant and will make you reel at the injustice of our legal system which is skewed against women who don't know their place.
Although Edie knows nothing about her lover's intention to kill her violent husband she is none the less convicted on the basis of her damaging love letters, by her transgression of sexual mores and by a paternalistic judicial system.
Fred and Edie will make you cry at the unfairness of our brutal history while reminding you that people are still murdered every day by the very states that are supposed to care for them.
A beautifully written and unbearably sad book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I read this book after reading "A pin to see the peepshow" which was written in 1934. Jill Dawson uses extracts from newspaper articles from the trial in 1922, after the murder of Edith Thompson's husband by her lover Frederick Bywaters. This book is beautifully written and I felt that Edie really came to life on the page; she was a vain and passionate woman who escaped from her humdrum marriage by reading romantic fiction and writing dramatic letters to her lover, Bywaters, whilst he was away at sea. Did Edie tempt her much younger lover to commit murder ? The judge and jury certainly thought so and she, along with Bywaters was condemned to death. Her execution was horrific and stories of her being pregnant and her 'insides falling out' started immediately. Jill Dawson's book is a joy and I recommend to anyone that loves a love story, or has an interest in social history.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2004
I picked up this book by chance, not having heard anything about it previously. It is a well written and absorbing book which I would recommend to people to see what their thoughts were, and it does provoke a good deal of thought.
A large part of that for me is the basic elements taken from a real and brutal murder and the authorial extrapolation that takes place from the unknown truths of the people involved.
I don't think that the author has been particularly unfair; to read Edie's thoughts and emotions is to feel trapped yourself. Here is a woman who has not had an extensive education, brought up to believe in certain things like having a "respectable" married home life (respectable to other people) and has to live within a societal framework that is on the edge of transition, and one that has concrete beliefs that no longer rule absolute in the 21st Century. She married someone, they were extremely ill-suited in temperament and she met someone else who she felt she truly could be herself and be appreciated by.
With that said, I don't believe that Edie comes across as a completely sympathetic character. She displays shallowness, self-involvement and a high degree of a fantasy prone personality. She takes comfort in things that a lot of people might find particularly frivolous. Edie does suffer hardships and pain, but you only find some of this out in the novel by implication. Neither do her husband Percy or her lover Fred come out of the novel with clear cut victim/perpetrator labels.
Percy appears a rather staid, physically unattractive character and when he has a drink too many his bullying and violent tendancies emerge. As the novel progresses Edie gives a view of a rather pathetic man who is both jealous and cowardly. And yet he does not appear without a certain pathos, he is someone who under the right circumstances could have been a better husband, a kinder man. Fred is the "romantic" hero, attractive, more intutitive/sensitive, wordly, sexy and sophisticated but retaining a childlike (even childish) outlook. Which all sounds terribly desirable until you look at his actions, which are by turns just as selfish, possessive and insensitive as Percy's.
What you have within the author's imagination are three flawed human beings whose chance interactions led to a devastating end.
I feel there are certain flaws to the book, when you are dealing with the unknown there always will be. Edie's imagination and use of language as narrator are highly developed, her emotional outpourings are very coherent and have a 'writerly' quality to them. There's nothing to definitively say she wasn't a very imaginative person with natural talent but it does seem to me to be heightened to a degree where a modern reader could be more open to her dilemma.
It also left me with some uncomfortable thoughts which I had on reading 'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood. These were real people, whose innocence of the crime or not, affected themselves, their families and friends in a way that most of us, hopefully, will never know. In some ways I would prefer to read a novel which was a product entirely of the author's mind, I can't help but feel that we are pulling these people back into the light when they would wish themselves to be in the shade of the past.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 31 October 2012
I couldn't put this novel down; it followed Edith Thompson through her 3 months in jail accused of involvement in her husband's murder. In letters to her younger lover-and accomplice -Frederick Bywaters, Dawson recreates their relationship and the romantic yearnings of a woman stifled in an unhappy marriage.
From early certainty that she will get off to an increasing and horrific awareness that death awaits them both:
'When I remember the summer we spent in Shanklin I picture that photograph we had taken on the beach, all four of us. Percy sucking on his pipe and Freddy squinting into the sun and me without a hat and you, you broad-brimmed and healthy, clutching at your white gloves. I try to keep from thinking this, but the thought won't stay away. That a year from now, of the four of us, only you will be able to look at that photograph again.'
Incidentally, just as good, if not better, is F. Tennyson Jesse's novel 'A Pin to see the Peepshow' which covers the same case.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2000
I was looking forward to reading this book, and was not disappointed. Excellent writing; in my view this is the book that comes closest to portraying the real Edith Thompson.
Only one small criticism: I would have liked to know more about the two men in Edith's life; her husband Percy and her lover, Fred.
But that does not take away from the strength of this book. On one level, a tragic human story, on another a real comdemnation of a system and a society that could hang a woman more for her adultery than for her perceived involvement in a murder. It's shocking to think that the morality of the time would not allow Edith and her defence team to explain that some parts of her letters referred not to trying to murder her husband, but to her trying to counteract the effects of sexual intercourse in a world with uncertain methods of contraception.
Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2001
This is an excellent book. I bought it for my daughter who is studying it at school and found i was as hooked on it as she was. I was even more amazed to find that this happened in the area that not only do i live in, but was raised in, yet i had no idea about it at all. Its obvious to the reader that the only crime that Edith Thompson committed was to fall in love.
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on 27 February 2014
I recently read, and was totally blown-away by, the 'Tell-tale Heart' and so was keen to read more by this writer. I wasn't disappointed. This novel is totally addictive and I was drawn into Edie's world very quickly. Interestingly although this and the Tell-tale Heart are clearly v different novels I found similar themes emerging - mothers and sons, the imperative of living life to the full, the 'difference' in us all that belongs to us alone, the beauty and encouragement of nature. Jill Dawson's writing is so crisp and alive - I felt I could touch the porcelain coffee cups she describes, I could feel the hair on Freddie's chest - she really does have an incredible ability to bring language alive. Even though in some sense this is obviously a sad/tragic story I actually found it strangely uplifting - as despite everything, Edie does get to experience true happiness, the happiness she has known she has been searching for since she could first feel the lack of it. I loved the thread running through the novel of Edie's trying to find the moment in time when she could have reversed her fate. Jill Dawson's description of an unhappy marriage is so resonant - the same today as it was then - and in that sense I didn't feel I was reading a historical novel at all. I was also very moved by the relationship between Edie and her sister - this felt very real to me and I was really struck by Edie's last letter to her sister - in a sense their relationship was the heart of the novel for me.
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