Seventeen year-old Thea has led a bizarre and guarded existence on the South African coast. All she's ever known is life with her mother Nalia, an opera singer and Holocaust survivor. Thea is a virtual prisoner behind a padlocked house gate. She's only allowed out for convent school or elsewhere under Nalia's supervision.
A dinner visit from a Syrian guest piques Thea's interest. He entices the young girl to travel overseas with him. Thea sneaks out of the house and boards the ship. She will marry this man whose name she doesn't know. Not until it's too late does Thea learn she was promised to him by her father.
The young girl has set her own future to live with the strange man on an island far away. As time passes, Thea comes to realize that she's traded one prison for another. She lives for the day she can return to her mother.
"What is marriage anyway, but a form of theft? Someone taken, someone left behind. But with this, I am his, I will always be his. And I know there is no way back."
House of Women is a haunting tale that analyzes obsessive family bonds. The personalities are cold and distant. Nalia refers to her own daughter as "the girl." Men are referred to as "nonentities." The author's description of the characters' actions provides the only warmth to the theme.
This Lynn Freed work is reminiscent of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader and Ahrundati Roy's The God of Small Things. The first book pushes readers away with distant characters while the latter draws them back in with vivid descriptions of a faraway land.
A complex tale is hidden within this simple book. The author opts not to discuss key points instead concentrating on the small details, especially the sexual energy between the characters.
There are several scenes in House of Women that fly completely over my head. I'm not quite sure why they are included in the story or what they mean. Personally, I feel this is a defect in my simple little brain rather than a problem with Freed's book. The writing is captivating nonetheless.
It takes a special writer to draw every emotion out of her readers. Lynn Freed does just that. Expect to feel sadness and frustration for Thea, Nalia and the others. This is a profound tale that requires a great deal of energy. Not exactly a happy-go-lucky story, but one that requires extensive thought from its readers.
House of Women is a little book with a heavy story. Read it to be challenged and compelled by Thea's tale. The character's actions may seem alienating, but Freed's eloquent writing will draw you back every time.