It’s still Freed, but a thinned quality causes events in her South African lives this time seemingly just to happen, not accumulating the dimension or history-nuanced flavor that distinguished The Mirror (1997) and The Bungalow (1992).
Thea’s glamorous and imperious mother Nalia is an opera singer and Holocaust survivor—and a controlling figure who keeps her grand house up on a hill always chained and padlocked, peremptorily gives orders to her housekeeper, and almost tyrannically guards her 17-year-old daughter and only child Thea not only from “common rubbish” but from Thea’s very own father, a cynical, unscrupulous, very rich womanizer and man of the world who has never been married to Nalia and certainly doesn’t live with her. But young Thea, however passionately she may love her famous and eccentric mother, also has pulsing deeps of her own—and, when her father sends his middle-aged Syrian friend Naim for her, she secretly “allows” herself, as it were, to be spirited away, put to sea on Naim’s yacht, then to be married to him and ensconced as his wife, albeit more like a prisoner or sexual slave, in his vast, palatial house on an unnamed island. From this point on, Thea’s weird life in the imprisoningly gothic world of the perverse though gentle Naim (she’s his because of a bet made between him and Thea’s father) is described in alternation with the slow decline of Nalia, who struggles with her equally overwhelming senses of outrage and despair at the loss of Thea—and continues to see Katzenbogen, her lover, psychiatrist, and then something more, as readers will discover, though without the snap or twist of a surprise that will really mean much when it comes.
Touches of the charm, the pointed observations, the fine control of color, tone, mood, character, and milieu that mark Freed at her best—all borne poorly by a vehicle that tries for more significance than it has.