Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Sea House

Overall, I found things to enjoy in this novel. I thought it a powerful evocation of the Suffolk coast and village life. Val - is Steerborough Aldeburgh? When they talked about possibly getting a mobile signal by the church, I suddenly wondered! I was also amused by the having-to-drive-up-the-A12-to-get-a-signal. Spot on. Perhaps this is one answer to Val's earlier musings about how authors will engineer missed communications now we all have mobiles: set everything in Aldeburgh, mobile dead zone extraordinaire! I also liked Nick using the phone box and Lily "grinning so hard it shocked her. She hadn't realised quite how frantically she'd been at war."

I appreciated the calm, restrained prose. I enjoyed the use of language: "an ancient and extravagantly smart couple" being a typical example. Not showy, but no less carefully crafted for that. I think it was the prose which I liked best, and the sense of the consciousness behind it. I can see why Esther Freud was drawn to and wrote the preface to The Summer Book.

On a plot and characterisation level, I'm not so sure about the novel. I wasn't convinced by a single one of the four couples. Although I would very much welcome your views: are we meant to be uncertain about these rickety relationships - is that the point? Does she find them (or all relationships) somewhat unconvincing? Or does Freud want us to end the novel optimistic about Lily and Nick? It had been signed so early that Nick was otherwise "preoccupied" (for once an apt word from the blurb!) that I was resentful at his/Lily's/possibly Freud's volte face. Grae and Lily seemed to me, as it was happening, to be genuine, but was that in fact more a reflection of what Lily was feeling (effectively on the rebound) than objective reality? I have read books where the author has conned the reader into complete acceptance of the protagonist's viewpoint, only to show that as seriously flawed, but that has been when the protagonist is the narrator. But we only see modern day events from Lily's viewpoint so it's perfectly possible that this is a deliberate device rather than unconvincing characterisation. Views, please!

One thing which I felt deepened the novel was the background of the war. Most poignant was Max's conversation with a survivor who'd known his father. "His father had not disappeared from Germany, and in that moment he knew he would not see him again." I just cannot imagine operating within that kind of frame and I was glad to be reminded of all that we haven't had to experience.

But I really can't decide definitively on the novel without resolving the characters' relationships to my own satisfaction. So do please help!