Culture Street

Books

The House of Memories

On January 1, 2013

By Sophia Whitfield

Queen of popular fiction, Monica McInerney, has turned her attention to grief in her latest novel.

Ella O’Hanlon flees Canberra five weeks after the death of her 18-month-old son, leaving behind  her husband and breaking contact with her family, her parents, her siblings and her uncle.

As Ella tries to make sense of the tragic loss of her only child we get a glimpse into her past, her fragmented upbringing, which throws light on her strained relationship with her family.

McInerney is an expert at writing about family relationships, quite possibly as she herself is one of seven children. She delves into the dark corners of a melded family highlighting the difficulties it presents.

Keeping busy is Ella’s mantra. She is constantly working at menial tasks, having turned her back on her previous job as an editor. This allows her to move around, never staying very long in any one location.

Coming up to the 18-month anniversary, the age Felix was when he died; Ella remains wracked by grief and guilt. What if she hadn’t gone out on the fateful day of Felix’s accident? What if Aidan, her husband, hadn’t asked her sister Jessica to babysit so he could go into work? Consumed by her own distress and grief she fails to recognise that anyone else is suffering. No one loved Felix like she did.

Throughout her life, Ella’s uncle Lucas has been a comfort to her. He is the only remaining connection she has with her father. An aging academic living in total chaos, McInerney draws such a clear picture of him that you can almost smell the scent of mothballs coming from his tweed jacket. But now even Lucas’s home in Paddington, London, fails to provide the refuge Ella seeks.

The story spans countries from Australia to the US and the UK. McInerney's sense of place particularly in Paddington is brilliantly drawn. With well known haunts such as Kensington Gardens adding interest to the story. The reader is taken on a walk through London with Ella.

The story is written in different voices, a first person account, diary form, emails and Aidan’s written account of their lives together. This allows the reader to hear every point of view and to feel the grief felt by all at the loss of young Felix.

Mcinenery has written a warm-hearted book about loss, grief and family. The reader will care about each one of the characters, all of them flawed, but lovable.

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