Review published on May 14, 2018.
Our House is very entertaining, it’s a quick read that plumbs the depths of our everyday fears to great effect. A domestic psychological drama with wider thriller themes. A lot of fun.
Ask yourself this: when you learn that Fi has been ousted from her £2.4M house do you feel sympathy for her plight or envy that she lived in such a valuable house in the first place? It’s one of the questions posed for us as readers by this modern-day nightmare. It’s not a fair question at this stage, you haven’t even opened the novel yet, you don’t have the facts, but does that stop you from judging Fi and her situation? Did she bring this upon herself? Is she is a genuine victim? It’s the social media commentary that runs throughout the story that makes us engage with diverse opinions and reflect on what we know and what we think we know when we are in the mood to pontificate on other people.
I took a while to warm to this novel, I think there was a bit too much chopping and changing between aspects of the story, characters and timelines early on, which broke the story up before it began (to be fair, maybe I was just unused to the style Candlish adopts). It’s a little bit disconcerting but then it’s sort of meant to be, so stick with it if you feel the way I did (of course, every book needs a set up). It also takes a while to get a handle on what makes this is a thriller, and therefore relevant to BookNoir, rather than a recounting of a relationship breakdown. However, when it does take off we have a full on roller coaster ride; action, emotional intensity and psychological game playing all feature. Our House ramps up the tension, always keeping the reader guessing and the denouement has a couple of decent twists. The novel is fast paced with more than a touch of wit.
January, 2017, Fiona ‘Fi’ Lawson is estranged from her husband Bram but their relationship is complicated and they have two boys under ten. They share the house, No. 91 Trinity Avenue, on an on-off basis, taking the parenting responsibilities in turn. They have a flat for the time each partner is away from the children. It’s called a bird’s nest arrangement. They can’t afford to get divorced and neither wants to lose the house. Bram has been looking after the boys while Fi has been away. Ominously, Fi returns to London on Friday 13th. She sees a van unloading furniture into her home. When she questions Lucy Vaughan, the new ‘owner’, she can’t comprehend what has happened. All her belongings have gone, Lucy appears to have documents to prove that the house belongs to the Vaughan’s as of noon that day. They bought the place for £2M, below market value. But this is crazy as Fi did not sell her house. Why can’t she get hold of Bram?
Two months later ‘Fi’s Story’ is the subject of a documentary podcast called ‘The Victim’ designed to offer insight into the story of those who have been victims of crime. This is where the social media commentary begins. Bram it appears is in Geneva and his account of events are presented in the form of a long suicide note. The followers of Fi’s story on the podcast do not have access to the information we have from Bram’s confession. So we have a ‘he said, she said’ that gradually becomes darker as the past emerges. Bram has been disqualified from driving for three speeding offences, when this comes to light and the significance dawns we are firmly in thriller territory.
Our House is a gripping read because it feeds on a modern-day primal fear. The idea that, on one apparently ordinary day, you could lose the second most important thing in your life and that would destabilise everything – having your house stolen from you. That’s assuming family is more important than bricks and mortar!
The use of the podcast creates a forum for third parties to have a say in the developing story. We see a rush to judgement, even a desire to mock. Even if this were not a thriller the sort of reactions Fi’s broadcast gets put you in mind of the way people polarise around breakups and make judgements upon people:
“@natashaBwriter Her problem is she’s too passive-aggressive with the ex….”
“@LuluReading I’m sorry, but this #VictimFi *is* a bit of a f*ckwit….”
“@tillybuxton #VictimFi is her own worst enemy, isn’t she?….”
It’s interesting how people feel they have the right to an opinion (I haven’t contextualised any of these contributions to avoid spoiling the story). This puts people in the story who would not normally be there; are they like us? After all, when we read we judge? Candlish has fun playing with perceptions, what you think at the start will not be how you feel at the end. I was sceptical of the social media aspect but it really works. Very entertaining.
We generally prepare a reading guide for groups for our BookNoir Book of the Month choices but the publisher has included one at the end of the novel. As this is an ideal book for a group read, it is useful and saves us a job.
Our House by Louise Candlish
Simon & Schuster UK 9781471168031 hbk Apr 2018