In Freud’s sixth book (The Sea House, 2004, etc.), 17-year-old Lara accompanies the father she barely knows to stay with his ailing friend Caroline at her Italian villa.
It’s summer 1981, and Lara—intimidated by the erudite, intensely private Lambert and left out of his reminiscences with their host—seeks the company of the neighbors, the Willoughbys, a big family of pleasure-seeking English aristocrats. Lara grows infatuated with Kip, a wastrel-in-waiting who retains a tinge of innocence, unlike his in-law, cretinous roue Roland, and unlike his notorious father, who squandered a fortune and has retreated to Italy to shelter its remnants and live unencumbered by his wife. What ensues is part travelogue, part coming-of-age romance, part teen Gothic (the mysterious rambling house, the leering Willoughby satyrs, the tangled “sexy path” through the trees—a stretch of which, in the back garden, is lined with stones shaped like genitals). Freud convincingly captures this adolescent’s ways of thinking and speaking, and there are sharp minor characters, especially Caroline’s cook, Ginny. But the story’s arc is predictable. Sex good, followed by sex evil. Later Lambert injures himself in a moment of macho vainglory, and soon after, Caroline is rushed to the hospital. Their absence paves the way for Lara’s erotic idyll with Kip, for an account of the Palio, the famed summer horserace in the Tuscan town of Siena (Caroline owns the winning mount), and for the revelation of secrets.
Familiar characters and situations, smooth but lackluster prose and oversaturated local color.