During Reading Ireland Month last year, I turned out to be lucky enough to win in one of the giveaways organised by Cathy. The theme of the giveaway was Irish women writers and one of the books I won was The House by Leland Bardwell. Therefore, I decided to commence my posts for this year’s Reading Ireland Month with a review of this lovely book.
Leland Bardwell appears to be one of “the forgotten” Irish literature voices, as Cathy had also written about very eloquently in her relevant post. It is rather (sadly) expected, then, that I hadn’t even heard of her or any of her books prior to being introduced to her through Cathy.
The House is a really short novel of merely 150 pages, but it is one of those books that are so rich in their thematology and characters that you cannot easily forget it, no matter how fast you end up reading it. I initially planned on reading it in just a couple of days, but I found myself so immersed in its world that I wanted it to last longer, so I ended up finishing it in about a week.
The book revolves around the story of the Stewart family who lives in a house in Killiney, Count Dublin. The family consists of Cedric, the older brother, Richard, James (who seems to be the unwanted one by his parents), Maria and Jess, who suffers from a fatal illness. Theresa, the house maid also plays a very important role in the story, since she appears to be Cedric’s love interest as well. The story focuses more on Cedric and the narrative voice alternates between first person (either Cedric or Richard) and third person quite often, which I found rather confusing at certain parts of the story, as I was trying to figure out who the narrator was each time.
As the first person narrator says about the book:
But as I have said, this is not strictly speaking the story of Cedric, it is merely what flashes in and out of my memory, of the events that happened in this house, on whose paint-peeling stairs I sit now – what a house and a family does to everyone, how lives are shaped and generations shoved into each other like the bellows of a concertina.
The story takes place in a span of some years, though we are only given clues out of which we can calculate the era it is referred to, as the specific year is not at all mentioned. A little after the middle of the book, the characters speak of an upcoming war that looms over them and everyone seems to be terrified of: World War II. The events of the war are not mentioned nor do they affect the plot in an immediate way.
The novel tackles many different themes, such as family relationships, love, friendship, illness, death, issues of identity (as any Irish piece of art that refers to that period where Ireland was still trying to stand on its own two feet) and segregation, depression and even education. The author manages to infuse all these themes and issues in her story without making it too tiring or heavy for the reader. Furthermore, her writing style is wealthy and literary without being too pompous or wordy.
Bardwell is an amazing storyteller; in merely 150 pages she creates characters that seem so stunningly real and familiar, with problems and situations that reflect our own. She creates a storyline that follows one family and their affairs, but on a much deeper level the characters and the situations they have to deal with connect with any Irish family that lived in those times, any Irish family that lives now or even any family anywhere in the world.
I will finish this review with some of my favourite quotes from this wonderful book.
“In Oxford my mind was all throbbing with ideas, here it’s dead as lettuce soaked at the vinegar of guilt and the need for love.”
“But he must hear his father out, the man to whom he owes so much and to whom he can give nothing back.”
“Cedric feels just now as if there are no days. Just time. Time which is beyond his control. Previously time was infinite yet ordered, death something to be switched on or off. But now it looms a sudden force; a current which is dragging the whole family with it.”