Summer at Gaglow, Esther Freud

ImageI quite enjoyed this book for a number of different reasons. Firstly, it was remarkably easy to read considering the setting and the context: The first World War in Germany. I’m not sure what exactly made it so easy to read – perhaps the narrative flow or the characters themselves. The book itself is structured around two separate narrative strands. Firstly there is the 1914 context; a wealthy upper class family with three sisters, living in the lap of luxury, partly in Berlin and partly in their summer home in Gaglow. The frivolity of their existence flutters against the backdrop of pre-War Germany and they are concerned with the typical ‘worries’ of young girls of this period – their gowns, beaus and parties. But beneath this facade is a wonderful subtext of angst which arises in the strained relationship between the girls’ mother and their governess. There was something incredibly malicious and indeed malignant about this dynamic and I found the way that the governess manipulated the girls incredibly intriguing. At the same time, the mother’s inability to maintain any sort of connection with her daughters was similarly interesting. In all, the family dynamic was captivating.

The second narrative strand is a relatively contemporary one, set in London, it features the descendants of this wealthy German family. I didn’t find myself able to form the same connections to these modern families as I did to the original German ancestors. In the initial narrative I was lost in the swirl of events and entertained by the way in which each woman related to the other. While the modern families features a similar type of relationship between sisters, it didn’t have any of the same nuances and I found the girls difficult to know in the same way that I felt I knew the original troupe – Eva, Martha, Bina.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Not a perfect book, but it certainly has some wonderful features.

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