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The House With Old Furniture Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
Do we go mad or are we driven mad? In The House With Old Furniture by Helen Lewis the question is moot.
Evie and Finn are instantly placed: each one grieving for the loss of Jesse – a son and brother respectively. Killed in a shocking gang-related incident, Jesse’s ghost follows his distraught mother and lost little brother as they are forced into moving from London to Wales by his father, Andrew, easily the most arrogant and obnoxious character I’ve encountered in a very long time.
Evie is utterly broken by her son’s death, grieving almost to the point of inarticulacy, but even when she does speak, no one listens. No one listens to Finn either. As they attempt to settle into Pengarrow, an ancient house in Wales, it slowly dawns on Evie that Alys, the woman cooking in the kitchen, isn’t quite who she first appears to be. Evie finds common cause with ephemeral Alys, the author of an old book filled with recipes, reminders and remedies; notes, letters and clues. A book containing her life. Alys also has a son, fearful Nye who reminds both Evie and Finn of Jesse. The unfolding horror of the parallel ghost story slinks like a snake between the cracks of Evie’s grief-stricken mind and Finn’s growing confusion.
Vile, weak Andrew and his monstrous parents make Evie’s life hell on earth. Isolated in more than her desperate sorrow she is ‘unincluded’ rendering her inadequate and a target for people who ought to be caring for her but who have shocking agendas of their own.
If Andrew is the nastiest character, Evie has to be the most tragic: poor, sad Evie, left with ‘all the things I should’ve thrown out and nothing we really need.’ Ten year-old Finn will break your heart; Evie will take the pieces and crush them. The ending is a stunner. It’s brutal and even though it left a space I didn’t know how to fill, and at first I thought I didn’t like that, after a few days I realised what makes this book special is the author’s absolute and unequivocal honesty. Which meant I could decide that after all, I loved it.
As Evie says, close to the end, when she and Alys raise a glass, “Now you’re talking; dirty, lying, scheming, cheating bastards…”
and not at all what I thought it would be.
After the murder of her son, Evie and her family upsticks and move to Wales.
Evie and her husband Andrew are dealing with their grief in totally different ways, and Evie's pain is very sad to read. Helen Lewis has captured what it is like to be a mother with such a loss.
I have a similar history to Evie, in that my brother was also murdered and I watched my own mothers grief spiral in such a way that all that mattered was her dead son. The living did not bring her any comfort, so I totally understood Evie.
This is a book about death, The 1st world war is largely portrayed and as Evie's life falls apart we learn so much about her, her relationship with her husband and also that of Alys, the housekeeper who comes to help Evie. With her book of 'life' filled with recipes, notes and remedies, this is a character that intrigues. Nye, her son is a fearful boy and the similarities between them all fills this book with heartbreak and a sadness that sticks.
This is a tale with unpredictable plot.
I loved the title, it gives this book an air of tense expectation and suspense.
Reading the first few pages of The House with Old Furniture, I got the feeling that this would be a ghost story, and it was. Jesse follows his mother and his brother Finn, Finn is rather ignored and my heart went out to him. Ghosts past and present haunt the characters and secrets, grief and a highly emotive tale makes this book one to read.
Told from the alternating viewpoints of Evie and her son Finn, The House with Old Furniture opens with these words:
“I don’t want to leave. I am being ripped from the rock I cling to. A whirlpool of change drags me down, pulling me into the very bottom of its vortex.
“I want to stay. I need to stay, clinging to all the memories made here, ensuring they remain sharp and deeply etched. Because if I go who will say – remind people even – that this is where we had our first row, over there in the corner of the garden is where the snowman you built stood for two weeks, and round that corner where the tarmac cracks you came off your bike, you still had the scar ten years later, that little white smile on your kneecap.”
Evie is being forced to leave her home in London – the home where her dead son Jesse lived and died – in order to start life anew in West Wales. A move that has been planned and executed by her husband Andrew. You can see the sense of this decision, despite Evie’s anguish, and hope that despite her reluctance, that the move will prove to be cathartic. Because it is evident from the outset that Evie is not moving on. But as soon as they arrive in Wales, the ghosts arrive – ghosts that both Evie and Finn can see – and you begin to realise there is more to Evie’s grief than meets the eye. That there is a dark underbelly to Andrew’s actions that is not initially apparent.
The House with Old Furniture is a chilling novel. I found myself wondering where Lewis’ inspiration came from. “I wanted to write something that looked at madness,’ she explained; “exploring what one person might see as crazy when the other sees the same thing as normal. I think I’ve produced something along those lines. I hadn’t expected the ghosts to turn up!”
The ghosts are unusual. They are not ghoulish or intangible or the least bit frightening but real historical characters breaking through time and interacting with the present. They have their own story which illuminates the contemporary tale that Lewis is unfolding. I asked whether she set out to write an historical piece.
“No I didn’t! If you asked me to write an historical piece I would run screaming to the hills, all that research that needs to be done. But The House with Old Furniture just wrote itself that way. And actually, because the historical parts are in small sections throughout, I didn’t find the research so daunting. I did have to keep a detailed timeline though, making sure all the dates and ages were feasible.”
Finn’s naive voice was the triumph of the novel. I asked Lewis how she came to include him. “When I started writing The House with Old Furniture it was from Evie’s perspective but I quickly realised that without Finn’s presence the story would be very two dimensional. He is my favourite character and I actually think it is Finn who tells the tale.”
I have to agree with Lewis’ analysis. Through Finn’s naive eyes, we begin to see the truth about Evie, to get a sense that things haven’t been right in this family for quite awhile.
“She so doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get any-fuckin-thing, not computers, not me, not moving’ not Dad – most of all not me. It was all OK before – well almost, I mean she got drunk, got all loud and lairy, then woke up messy sometimes, but now … now Dad’s the invisible man and she’s … she’s rubbish. Like yesterday, she was makin’ tea and spilt the peas everywhere – and that’s her, bits of Mum everywhere. She sat there in a mess, not movin’ not even cryin’ – might’ve been another of her blackouts, an’ I thought, I don’t care! Get up and be my mum again! It’s not just Jesse that’s gone, he’s taken them all with him. Left me here alone, where everyone mopes about because we’re all too sad to do stuff anymore.”
There is a darkness to this family’s history, a darkness that we quickly realise will not be erased by a simple move to the country. But although, Evie’s mental health is fragile, the chilling depth of her insanity is not initially apparent. Nor are the dynamics of power, coercion and abuse that have contributed to her demise. As the story unfolds and the pieces start falling into place, we glimpse a situation that is both timelessly haunting and frighteningly modern. I asked Lewis whether her next novel will tackle similar issue. She assures me it will not be as chilling as The House with Old Furniture. “Having spent five years with some dark and difficult characters I wanted to create some people with a bit of humour. I think it is beginning to take shape, they certainly make me laugh anyway!”
I will certainly be looking out for the next instalment by this talented new author. Meanwhile, I fear it will be some time before I can exorcise the ghosts The House with Old Furniture has awakened in me.
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