Warmth in delightfully ordinary Front pages
Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99 Reviewed by Sipora Levy
REBECCA FRONT is an award-winning actress, comedian and writer, whose career has taken her from television comedies such as The Thick of It to the serious drama of War and Peace. For radio, she has co-scripted and appeared in Incredible Women with her brother Jeremy, and is also a frequent guest on
The News Quiz. She was born and raised in East London, read English at Oxford and was the first female president of the Oxford Revue. Her first
Rebecca Front book, Curious was shortlisted for the National Book Awards.
Her new collection of essays is subtitled “Adventures in the Ordinary”, and though the topics are indeed of the everyday kind — going to the dentist, having friends round for dinner or a holiday by the sea — her acute observations and sharp humour lift these experiences from the mundane to the refreshingly different.
She is an extremely perceptive observer of people — in particular her family — as well as being aware of her own foibles, all of which imbues her writing with a warm authenticity.
In Heavy Breathing she relates her experience of attending ante-natal classes while her husband Phil mostly preferred to watch Chelsea on television. This story is hilarious and, as elsewhere, reveals her ability to convey her own vulnerability.
The book is not only funny but in places deeply moving. In Girls’ Night Out, she acknowledges the shock and helplessness of losing a friend to cancer. In Impenetrable, she describes how looking at the stars with her teenage son brought them closer together.
Her memories move back and forth in time, so we are taken into her childhood, her career and her Jewishness. Not Necessarily in the Right Order is a touching recollection of how her non-Jewish acting colleagues staged a surprise Seder night for her when she was on tour and unable to go home to celebrate with her own family.
Mother Tongue is a sensitive evocation of the power of Yiddish in a nonYiddish speaking world and Dolly and Millie Take Tea is a loving and funny tribute to her grandmother and aunt.
Rebecca Front is an affecting and elegant writer with a gift for making the ordinary seem extraordinary. In her preface, she offers a clue to her methods: “I watch people all the time and I’m an inveterate eavesdropper… I try not to focus on what they’re saying, but rather on what they are not saying.” Such attention to body language, omissions and detail in general, infuses her writing throughout this delightful book.
Sipora Levy is a freelance reviewer Lore Segal