In Freud’s fifth novel, a young woman arrives in a small English seacoast village to research a thesis about a German architect who lived and worked there. While poring over his passionate letters to his wife (letters that raise questions about her own relationship with a man back in London), she becomes involved with the fractious family next door. Interspersed through this narrative is one concerning events decades earlier, when an artist visiting from London starts to make paintings of every house in the village and falls for the architect’s wife. A dreamlike atmosphere pervades, rather at the expense of vivid characterization, but Freud’s gift for natural description is such that she manages to turn the village’s seaside topography into a sentient being, with its own stores of memory and malice.
The deeper you go in The Sea House, the more you realize that Lily herself is a kind of refugee, an exile from the conditions of her own London life. She has begun, like Max, to float in isolation, and with each chapter the parallels between them multiply.
The New York Times
Painter Lucian's daughter, Sigmund's great-granddaughter and an accomplished novelist herself (Hideous Kinky), Freud invokes her father's family history in this splendidly written, evocative novel. Inspired by the letters of her grandfather, the architect Ernst Freud, she weaves an elegantly paced, double-stranded narrative set in the English coastal village of Steerborough. In the present, 20-something grad student Lily retreats to Steerborough for the summer with a bundle of letters that architect Klaus Lehman wrote to his wife, Elsa. Her story alternates with that of a group of German-Jewish migr s, including Klaus, Elsa and the deaf painter Max Meyer, who summer in Steerborough in 1953. While Lily pores over Klaus's adoring but paternalistic, bullying letters, she and her workaholic architect boyfriend Nick, living in London, are nearly incommunicado. "The men she knew didn't seem to feel the need to so utterly possess their women," Lily muses, somewhat regretfully. Between infrequent, strained visits from Nick, Lily makes a pretense at work, suns, swims and befriends the little girls next door-and their virile, working-class father. Freud depicts postwar Steerborough from the point of view of Max and his hostess, Gertrude Jilks, an English child psychoanalyst and friend of his recently deceased sister, Kaethe. As Max hungers for the beautiful Elsa while mourning Kaethe and the immeasurable loss of his life and family in Germany-a subtext Freud renders all the more powerful with slow, subtle revelations-he paints every house in the village, creating a scroll that Lily will one day discover on exhibition. The novel's setting is smalltown, but its thematic scope is generous: from Old World jealous love to modern-day commitment issues, art, psychoanalysis, dislocation and yearning for home. Though the culmination of the love stories feels too deliberately plotted, Freud has constructed her novel with beautiful precision. 3-city author tour. (Apr. 20) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In a cottage by the sea, a young woman researching the life of architect Klaus Lehmann and his beloved wife comes to realize that her own life lacks passionate conviction. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
British novelist Freud (Summer at Gaglow, 1998, etc.) traces two adulterous love affairs, separated by half a century, in the seaside village of Steerborough. German refugee Max Meyer arrives there in 1953, struggling to regain a sense of purpose after the death of his sister. Fifty years later, Lily Brannan rents a cottage in Steerborough so she can research her architecture school project about the work of Klaus Lehmann, who like Max fled Germany for England to escape Nazi persecution of Jews. In fact, we learn as the two stories unfold in parallels that are almost too neat, Max met Klaus and fell in love with his wife Elsa during the summer of '53. As Lily reads Klaus's letters to Elsa from the 1930s, when he traveled frequently to foster his career but sent hectoring missives home, similarities also become apparent between Klaus's attempts to direct his beloved's life from afar and Lily's fraught relationship with her ambitious, controlling boyfriend Nick, a rising young London architect. Freud vividly sketches the quiet charms of village life as Max becomes immersed in his effort to paint every house in Steerborough on a single paper scroll, and as Lily considers moving there permanently as her frustration with Nick rises and her attraction to a young father with a troubled wife grows. Though the Holocaust is never mentioned directly, the German characters' memories impart a sense of menace, heightened by references to Steerborough's susceptibility to flooding. Rising waters provoke the climax of both stories, and Max's and Lily's affairs both end sadly, although the author gives one of her protagonists a tentative second chance at love. Freud writes with elegance, intertwines manycomplex narrative threads with impressive skill, and limns her characters' psychological states with acuity; she also provides astute insights into the creative process in a series of letters from Max's fictional mentor. Indeed, The Sea House is perhaps a little too accomplished for its own good, somewhat scanting the messy ambiguities of real life for the admittedly considerable satisfactions of highly polished art. Intelligent and reflective, but curiously unmoving. Agent: Georgia Garrett/AP Watt