As some of you may know, we recently sold our house and will soon be moving to a new one. It’s not far from our current abode, but it’s a new place to hang our hats and it all feels a little strange. The change from one place to another shouldn’t be that big a deal, but it’s triggered some anxiety and an emotional response I was quite unprepared for.
I’ve lived in a lot of places – in one chaotic period, I moved a total of nine times! Phew- what a time! Since then, I've settled down and the house I’m leaving represents a period of stability I didn’t even know I longed for. Perhaps that’s why I sometimes find myself tearing up over the prospect of leaving it.
Changing houses can be exciting, terrifying, or any combination of the two. Mostly it’s got me thinking about the essence of “home”; how where we live conjures memories and emotions that hold a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s where you came from, or perhaps it’s where a certain time in your life filled you with joy, or where you found hope after tragedy. Whatever the reason, there’s no place like home.
Home, of course, means something different to all of us, but here are a few titles where the setting is home – or where the place the characters live has significance. Sometimes homes are characters in and of themselves.
The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine
A psychological thriller based in a tall, narrow house in London’s Notting Hill. The story slips back and forth between the 1980s and the 60s where it seems every room in the house has someone different in it. The house appears as just as strong a character as any of the people who pass through it and is page-turningly good.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
A classic best seller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca has also been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Academy-award winning version. The story features a house thought to be haunted by the wealthy owner’s first wife, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident a year before the new wife comes to live there. The novel is known especially for the fictional estate of Manderley.
Fun fact: an edition of the book was used by the Germans in WW2 as the key to a book code.
The Lake House by Kate Morton
A crumbing, abandoned lakeside estate in Cornwall, England is the site of a young child’s mysterious disappearance and later, the catalyst for a series of events that reveal the truth about the past. The house is a sleeping beauty, waiting for someone to uncover the truth and set it free.
Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
Considered by many to be his masterpiece, the novel revolves around Howard’s End, a house based on Forster’s childhood home. A commentary on social mores and class distinctions in early 1900’s Britain, the inheritance of the house and what is represents soon sets off a multitude of tragic events.
Rooms by Lauren Oliver
A mesmerizing tale of family, ghosts, and secrets that come to life in a country house after its owner dies. Long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Spooky, and just in time for Halloween!
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The story revolves around three generations of women who confront a series of loss. Sisters Ruth and Lucille are raised by their decidedly eccentric aunt after their mother’s abandonment. Housekeeping, a domestic chore shunned by Aunt Sylvie, is also a theme in the larger sense of keeping a spiritual home for those we love.
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
What happens when a house, and those who lived in it, fall into chaos? The Turner family of Detroit see their city fall into economic ruin, and their father die. When their mother becomes ill and loses her independence, the Turner house still stands, but is worth only a fraction of its mortgage. The children are called back to decide its fate and reckon with their pasts.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Of course, I couldn’t very well write a blog about home without mentioning Patchett’s latest stroke of brilliance. Siblings Maeve and Danny struggle to build a life after the abandonment of their mother. The shadow of the Dutch House, a peculiar mansion bought by their wealthy father, looms over them and haunts their lives. Like the house’s murky history, the siblings must deal with their own complicated history to leave the past and make their own family.
The places where we sleep and eat, where we raise our children and greet our friends, evoke memories that are as powerful as a song, a photograph, or a letter read many years later. When we dwell on these spaces, we remember the dramas, the friends and family, the emotional currents we felt while we lived there. No wonder fiction is rife with homes as fodder for our lives.
As I pack up my memories in boxes, I’ll remember the stories my house has told. But as always, looking forward to new memories created in the next stop along the road.
Wash your hands, wear your mask, stay hopeful.
In the meantime, happy reading!