The architect Klaus Lehmann loves his wife, Elsa, with a passion that continues throughout their married life, despite long periods of separation. Almost half a century after Lehmann's death in the village of Steerborough, a young woman, Lily, arrives to research his life and work. Poring over Klaus's letters to Elsa, Lily pieces together the story of their lives. And alone in her rented cottage by the sea, she begins to sense an absence in her own life that may not be filled by simply going home.
Freud's fifth novel is an elegant exploration of the ways in which generations intersect. In two narratives set respectively in 1953 and the present day, it delves into loneliness and passion, landscape and people's sense of place. Keen to escape from London, Lily rents a cottage in Steerborough on the Suffolk coast. As part of her studies, she plans to research the work and letters of the architect Klaus Lehmann, who with his wife Elsa visited Steerborough in the summer of 1953. During her research, Lily unearths the love letters of Klaus and Elsa. Freud shows a truth behind the Lehmanns' marriage which is more complex than the letters suggest. Nonetheless, Lily's research inspires her to change her life. Freud unpicks loneliness with painful precision, showing the perils of isolation and the redemptive power of love. Freud weaves the Lehmanns' letters through Lily's story to lend beauty and passion to a stagnant life. Behind the 1953 narrative runs the current of history - the Lehmanns and their painter friend Max Meyer are all exiled Jews, whose expulsion from Germany is vividly described. The village of Steerborough, a marshy, saline place that has held generations in its thrall, is central to the novel. Freud evokes the fondness which visitors feel for the village and shows how the landscape has a revolutionary effect on the characters' state of mind - lives flood with feeling as dramatically as the shoreline floods with water. Freud's characters are entirely believable, especially as they repeat one another's mistakes. One of the strengths of The Sea House is its observation of tiny yet profound human interactions. Her language is clean and unpretentious and the pace of the narrative appropriately stately, to the point where some readers may find it slow. This is a deeply humane novel, showing how landscape and love can renew deadened lives. (Kirkus UK)