House of Women: a Prison of a Different Kind
J. Gordon
7/13/2002 10:58:46 PM

Lynn Freed’s short, spare, and sensual novel, House of Women [Little, Brown] is an intriguing story of a girl’s imprisonment: at first in the South African home of her obsessive and overprotective mother, an opera singer and Holocaust survivor who educates the girl in a convent and keeps her daughter away from the influence of everyone but herself. Then, at 17, she is kidnapped in the middle of the night and married to a rich and powerful cousin of her father’s, to whom she had been promised without her knowledge. She is taken away to an island she cannot identify, and forced to live the life of a spoiled and privileged prisoner: forbidden to leave, to make any decisions in her life, or even play a part in caring for and raising her own subsequent children.

Freed’s writing technique is especially fascinating. Just as the protagonist, the daughter Thea, knows so little of the outside world, so too is the reader given almost no information on time, place, names, etc. Much of the book is the girl’s internal monologue to her mother, and the girl knows so little about her own life—not even knowing the name of her husband—that the reader is as much in the dark as she is.

The story of Thea, her Mother, and Maude the maid who served as the glue that held them together, is beautiful, sad, fascinating, and dysfunctionally sick in a believable way. House of Women is a literary, psychological novel written in the spirit of the classics. Lynn Freed is the author of novels, The Mirror, Home Ground, and The Bungalow, all three of which were on the NY Times’ “Best Books of the Year” list.


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