Cover Image: The See-Through House

The See-Through House

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Member Reviews

I adored this book. Shelley Klein writes so beautifully about everything. It's a multi-layered memoir this book. It's a meditation on the loss of her parents, her father in particular. It's an exploration of architecture and what happens when architecture becomes home. It's an investigation into the creative processes of art and making cloth that fuelled her father's vision of life. It's a lament not only for her parents but for the legacy of her father's experiences of war. It's simply stunning. I have paced myself, reading to savour each word, each thought and breaking off to investigate further into what she writes about. I have talked about this book with everyone I've come across and recommended it to all and sundry. It's wonderful.
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I knew nothing about Bernat Klein. I had no idea he designed textiles and that he painted. I hadn’t even heard of his name before, which also meant I didn’t know he existed. So when I went into The See-Through House by Shelley Klein, I was drawn in by its title and the description that spoke of family, memories and links between Klein’s father and her family home.

This book is one that weaves little memories that intersects with snippets of hard facts and small worlds of emotion. We often feel nostalgia for moments in our past, but in this book’s case, I experienced second-hand nostalgia, something I didn’t know could exist.

The fluid writing style makes it so that the book progresses at a steady pace without being a bore. Books are meant to transport us away from the miseries of reality, and it was a wonderful feeling to be able to steal into the slivers of memories in this book. The book is captivating so that reading it feels like stepping through a window into another world and another time, filled with modernist houses constructed of glass and colours that hold a multitude of possibilities. It felt as if I were there, a silent observer throughout Beri’s past, present and future.

This book has two cores: the See-Through House, and Beri. Modernist houses have always seemed to me to be all marble and glass, minimalism and straight lines. It was all rather rigid and to some extent, I thought, dead. But is it necessarily so? The See-Through House is one of these modernist houses, but this book allowed me to see beyond the structure of the house, encouraging me to see that the life that went on inside the See-Through House that was no less vivid than my own. I saw that the house is a setting, and it is the people who live in it who breathe the life into a house.

Before reading this book, I had no idea who Bernat Klein was. After reading it, I don’t know all the nitty-bitty details about him, and honestly, I don’t have to. Instead, what I’ve gained is his daughter, Shelley Klein’s memory of him. It may not be my memories, but through this book, Shelley Klein kindly gives readers a glimpse of how she saw her father. In doing so, we are able to visualise the lively, brilliant man that is Bernat Klein, and we are able to imagine our own connections with those around us.
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Most of us would struggle to describe the places we live so fully as to fill 288 pages but when you live in one of the foremost modernist homes, designed by renowned architect Peter Womersley, there is just so much to describe.

Shelley Klein’s first work of non-fiction takes the reader on a journey through her childhood home exploring precious memories and poignant moments; touching on grief, the histories that make us and the artistic genius of her father, the Serbian textile designer and artist, Bernat Klein.

Much like the house, she describes the story of High Sunderland in Selkirk and its members in a free-flowing, open-plan style; each chapter taking a different room and dissecting the importance it held with charming anecdotes of how her father saw it, the love of her parents and the feelings the different parts of the house evoke.

What truly brings the house to life though is the exquisite descriptions which bring the reader right into the heart of these rooms. The living room, for example, is described as being entered, “much like one might enter a swimming pool, that is to say by descending three shallow marble steps…Also, much like entering a pool, the room swims with light…Beech and pine trees sway gently against bright green lawns providing a backdrop of shivering emerald. This is a room in which to relax, in which you can float, in which you can allow your mind to drift and here, in turn, is another trick of the house in that during the day it expands to encompass the outside landscape while when night falls and the curtains are drawn, the house retracts, draws into itself and exudes only warmth.”

The house was everything Bernat Klein wanted and yet there are amusing conversations interspersed in the text which show it wasn’t perhaps the most practical place and his views were the only ones to be considered inside the house. The burning of a coat gifted to Shelley because to him it was ugly perhaps the epitome of these clashes.

He was a man who had faced hardship in his life, not least losing his beloved mother during the Holocaust but his passion for colours, fabric and design, and his interminable desire to keep looking forward made Bernat Klein a very special man indeed. His loss was felt deeply by his daughter Shelley and in the pages of this book she brings together some of her most special memories of the man who saw his life through the lens of this very special house.

The See-Through House is a beautiful testament to a father-daughter bond, an exploration of the complexities of grief and, all together, a quite stunning account of a one of a kind house.
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Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for having the courage to help other people. I wish you the courage and strength you need to be able to now live a happy full life. God bless
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When I think of the Scottish Borders, images of ruined abbeys, medieval castles and splendid mansions immediately come to mind. 
A romanticised and fictional vision of the past was at the heart of Sir Walter Scott's writing and it is not surprising that Abbotsford, the home he became obsessed with, is to be found here. 

Like Scott, Bernat Klein was equally obsessed with his created home, but unlike Scott his attitute to the past was perhaps far more complex and his home a better integration of art and life. 

This book may on the surface be about a house, however extraordinary, but it is much more and like its subject it has multiple themes to it. One is memory and its often fractured nature. 

There was one point in the book when I thought of W. G. Sebald's masterpiece Austerlitz and then a few pages later it was infact referenced by the author. 

Shelley Klein here has written a haunting tale of her life, her father's textile designing and her home, which as the book progresses become increasingly interwoven. 

Built in 1957 and designed by the architect Peter Womersley, High Sunderland would be a modernist creation, a Bauhaus for the Borders. 

Incidentally, just a few weeks before I read the book, I saw an article about someone visiting for the first time the nearby football ground at Galashiels and mentioning the listed Brutalist 1960s groundstand (now sadly closed), which was designed by Wormersley. Certainly worth a visit. 

As the book progresses to, I suppose, its inevitable conclusion, the author painfully reaccounts how her life must now change and what this house has meant to her and sees this glass house as a lens to her future. 

I read this book in one sitting which I believe is recommendation enough.
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