From the beginning of her stunning novel House of Women, author Lynn Freed lays a trail of breadcrumbs and dares you to follow, to suspend disbelief and trust her remarkable talent. The rewards are considerable. House of Women isn't a fairytale. Rather, it is a glimpse into the murky depths of love and obsession, often distorted by individual needs. This novel is multi-layered with passion, longing and the seduction of affection, with a whispered reminder that care must be taken before making assumptions.
Clearly the most difficult and fascinating character is Nalia, a Holocaust survivor who keeps her daughter locked away from the influence of the world as her most prized possession. The daughter, Thea, appears as an extension of her mother and falls prey to Nalia's constant manipulation. But to view Thea as powerless would be a mistake, as she has only begun to spread her wings. The real theme here is acceptance of the inevitable, as time, by its nature, alters everything.
Always self-obsessed, Nalia is even more so since the experience of the death camps. Afterwards, she strives to maintain complete control of her life, refusing any male attachment; in fact, she considers men untrustworthy buffoons. Nalia's unspoken wish: to spend her days with Thea, growing old together. The mother-daughter relationship is ultimately corrupted by lives spent without boundaries, as they assume the roles of captive and prisoner. But when Thea's youthful imagination is captured by a mysterious older man, this almost-woman, on the cusp of the great drama of first romance, breaks free and elopes with him. A desolate Nalia is left howling in the wind.
Personal power is a defining element in Thea and Nalia's separation and eventual reconnection. But both discover that power is often an illusion, for there is always the danger of loss of control when need intrudes, disguised as passion. Their frustration is palpable as each realizes that perhaps survival isn't desirable, or even possible, without the intimate complication of love and an unbearable longing for affection.
Like a sophisticated dance, the bonds of the two women twist and turn in the most fascinating manner and nothing is ever as simple, or as difficult, as it seems. Draped in secrets and lies, obsession and truth, the House of Women is an intricate blend of love and forgiveness. I am impressed with Freed's skills as a writer and the accuracy of her perception, humanity's capacity for the distortion of shared needs -- needs that, after all, reside in the heart.