13th June 2014

Fleischerhaus by Melissa Bowersock

Julia, a young woman recently divorced, goes to spend the summer with a friend and her husband, Maggie and Denis Rothermal, in Bavaria. While there, she undergoes a disturbing experience during a visit to an old concentration camp. She becomes convinced that, in a past life, she was a prisoner in that camp, and that she was raped and murdered by another inmate. She also meets the handsome and charming Dr Theo Seiler, with whom (predictably enough) she begins a romance. In the ensuing story, the questions are: How far will she go in exploring this possible past life? How far will she go in her relationship with Theo?

The story is told almost exclusively from the third person, intimate point of view of Julia. The other characters, and particularly Theo, are not drawn with any great depth. Theo’s lines, in particular, sound like just that, lines. I never had any sense of a real person beneath the rather superficial exterior. He seemed designed to represent the idealised, sensitive man. There is no trace of anger or any negative emotion. The romance that ensues is starry-eyed and idealistic. As the basis for an exciting, post-divorce, holiday fling, this might work; but as the basis for a serious, long-term relationship, I doubt it. This may be a ‘guy’ thing. Perhaps this kind of unrealistic, idealised romance is exactly what people are looking for in a romance novel. The brief episode during which Julia’s ex-husband turned up on the doorstep was merely an irritating distraction, unless he were going to play a role in subsequent events.

The second strand of the story, the past life scenario, is much more interesting. I was occasionally frustrated that it didn’t occupy more of centre stage. The denouement was quite interesting, but I felt that so much more could have been done with this story. I also found myself strangely detached from Julia and the events she was describing, even when those events were quite traumatic. I think some of the reason for this lies in the fairly conventional and entirely linear structure of the narrative. So much more could have been done with the plot; and so much more could have been done to involve the reader in the story.

There were a couple of minor points that were indicative much more of California than Bavaria, speaking in ‘miles’ rather than ‘kilometres’, for instance. Picking up coffee and donuts for breakfast may be something people do in southern California, but not, I think, in Bavaria.

I think this had the potential to be a much stronger, more confronting and more complicated story than it actually is. There could have been twists and turns here, moments of revelation and surprise. The reader—this reader, at least—could have been moved much more deeply. The romance should have taken up less of the reader’s time. It is far too superficial. Having said that, this is a pleasant, easy, light read, which will help many people pass a wet and boring Sunday afternoon. Three stars from me.