cover image THE SEA HOUSE


Esther Freud, . . Ecco, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-06-056549-7

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 émigrés, 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)