Following a tragic accident, Ella O’Hanlon flees to the other side of the world in an attempt to escape her grief, leaving behind the two people she blames for her loss: Aidan, the love of her life, and Jess, her spoilt half-sister. (From publisher’s summary.)
I felt uneasy through a fair bit of this book. At first I wasn’t sure whether I was being played with, but then I realised the story line is pretty straight forward. It ranges over a number of different points of view and deftly incorporates a variety of styles. There’s the first-person narrative of the brittle main character Ella; the stage-managed diary entries of her narcissistic younger half-sister, Jess; the folksy-jolly emails of her step-brother Charlie; and the heartfelt letters of her estranged husband Aidan.
The aspects that unnerved me, I discovered, were carefully crafted: I was meant to feel that way. Just as I was meant, slowly, to come to see the complexity behind the tragic events that provide the background to this story.
Last year, as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I came across a genre-bending category: “family drama with elements of crime” – the kind that Wendy James and the controversial Caroline Overington do so well. I’m not sure this book fits: it’s perhaps not dark enough; but almost. The story portrays characters who act and react badly, who have been driven to extremes by circumstances, who don’t or can’t always see things from others’ points of view. It’s moving and uneven; uneven not through lack of writerly skill, but because the narrations of the characters – and the characters themselves – aren’t always what they seem.
Who will enjoy The House of Memories? People who love reading about Aussie ex-pats in London and imperfect, blended families; and readers who don’t mind being stretched emotionally in a way that resolves with a sense of hope, if not happiness, at the end.
Thanks to the publishers for supplying a review e-copy via NetGalley
The House of Memories, Monica McInerney
Published: September, 2012
Publisher: Penguin Australia, Michael Joseph