A book that changed me

ESTHER FREUD on James Copeland's 'For The Love of Ann'
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The Independent Culture
When did you first read it? I was about 11 and hadn't yet learnt to read as I didn't understand how you did it. I was at a school where there wasn't that much emphasis on being academic but I felt frustrated. Then one day I saw this book lying around the house, picked it up and suddenly I could read it. It was the most extraordinary thing and everyone kept coming and looking at me (I was living in this big extended family). I'd been struggling with reading for years, I couldn't see how the different letters made words and everyone had become so frustrated with me that they'd given up trying to get me to understand.

What did you like about it? It was a book written by the father of a girl who was autistic in some way, about what it was like and how they managed, and how eventually they managed to cure her. I was struck by their struggles and how patently they cared about her. A real family story of how you deal with someone you care about so much but who doesn't seem to be making progress. I was completely caught up in this world because it's a real story about real people written in an extremely direct and heartfelt manner. I just suddenly understood. Up to that point I'd been trying to read tales about imaginary things. It was almost like, "why read that when you can make it up yourself?" whereas this was someone's true-life experience.

Oddly enough what I remember really strongly is that, contrary to any kind of right-on ideas of how you treat people with a handicap, in the end somebody just whacked her and she was much better - which was terrible! Maybe I misunderstood what Copeland meant - it was like she was shocked out of her state and became much more manageable. From that day I became a typical bookworm - books are my favourite things in life. I'm very interested in families: I have been ever since and most of my writing revolves around them.

Do you recommend it or is it a private passion? I don't know if I could recommend it. I quite like that air of mystery, that this was a book that no-one else had read. It was my personal key into this world that I've used ever since.

! Esther Freud's latest novel is 'Gaglow' published by Penguin at pounds 6.99.