IT IS NO disparagement of Esther Freud's many talents to say that The Sea House has a rather familiar atmosphere. There is the picturesque East of England setting ('Steerborough' is transparently the town of Walberswick) so beloved of the Suffolk Coastal school. There is the foregrounded figure of the burrowing researcher, uneasily conscious of the past's ability to disrupt present arrangements. There is the Illicit relationship, acted out in the high, stilted house overlooking the marshes (intensely reminiscent of the late Maggie Hemingway's Walberswick novel The Bridge). Above all, perhaps, there is the lurking presence of the elements, the thought that in the end rain, storm and cataracts will move neatly into place to sweep all these h-ail human buttresses away.
Personally I never get tired of those novels - very common they are these days - in which the holidaying heroine cycles over the common into Southwold (here trading as 'Eastonknoll' - a nice touch) to wander past the aquarium windows of the Swan Hotel (here masquerading as the 'Regency'). On the other hand this absorption in a well trodden dell occasionally lends the novel a faintly generic quality. Lily, Freud's architectural student lead, a nice girl somewhat oppressed by her dominating architect boyfriend, has come to Steerborough to examine the letters and career of their professional avatar Klaus Lehrnann, who lived there in the early 1950s with his glamorous younger