Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Sea House by Esther Freud (2003)

Esther Freud was born in London in 1963.  She trained as an actress before writing her first novel, "Hideous Kinky" in 1991, which was made into a movie starring Kate Winslet.  I haven't read that book but did see the movie a few years ago.

I picked up "The Sea House" at the library, and enjoyed it, although it was sometimes a difficult to follow - the novel alternates between the past and the present in the same seaside town on the English coast.  In the present we have Lily, who comes to Steerborough to do academic research on the architect Klaus Lehmann, a German who emigrated to the UK with his wife Elsa.  Lily stays in a seaside cottage and finds Lehmann's letters to his wife strangely evocative of the feelings she has for her boyfriend, Nick, back in London.  She starts questioning their relationship and her life in London as she becomes entranced with the slow paced life in the village and the two little girls who are staying next door, as well as their father.
The passages about Lily are alternated with the late 1950s in the same location, where we see the artist Max, a deaf German immigre whose sister recently died.  He comes to Steerborough, invited by his sister's good friend Gertrude to come and paint.  Little by little Max comes into contact with Lehmann and his wife and as the story progresses we begin to see the connections between Lily's work in the present and the impact that Max, at the beginning a simple observer, ends up having on the history of the village and the people in it.  At the end of the story all the connections are made clear. 

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