I had been eager to read Our House since I heard Louise Candlish speak at a Greenwich Book Festival event last year. I now understand why so many readers have enjoyed this cautionary tale.
Set in an affluent and still upcoming residential street in South London, where house prices have quadrupled in a decade and aspirational families enjoy good schools and a sense of like-minded community, the story is told from the points of view of a middle aged married couple who have recently separated. Unwilling to sell the valuable family home, which in their time living there has been subjected to near constant ‘improvement’, they agree on what is known as a birds nest arrangement. At weekends the husband, Bram, will sleep at the house and look after his two sons. During the week the children’s care will fall to their mother, Fi. A small flat is rented nearby offering a bed for whichever parent requires it. Thus the children may always sleep in their own rooms, cared for by a loving parent without having to shuttle between residences to fulfil custody agreements. Each parent is free to do as they please when in the flat but will respect the children’s need for constancy and stability in their home.
This apparently amicable arrangement is shattered when Fi returns from a few days away to discover strangers moving into the family home, which has been emptied of all possessions. Doing their best to deal calmly with a distraught women on their moving day, the new couple assure her that they have legally purchased the property. A neighbour steps in to support Fi while lawyers are tracked down and the situation clarified. Bram cannot be reached.
Events of the preceding months are then recounted. Fi’s side of the story is told in the form of a transcript from a popular and sensationalist podcast featuring crime victims. Bram writes his version of events in a lengthy word document, describing it as his suicide letter.
The picture that emerges is one of a marriage where each party is striving to create what they regard as an ideal. Each recognises the attractions of the other yet requires them to be different.
Fi was drawn to Bram for the excitement – he is the fun parent for their boys – yet tries endlessly to tame him. Bram understands the stability Fi offers but struggles to control his need for occasional release. Fi turns to her close circle of female friends for day to day support. Bram keeps to himself the guilty secrets he accumulates as he finds outlets for his frustrations – ultimately these lead to tragedy.
There is a reason why books like this sell. The writing is engrossing and easy to read. The structure and flow are well balanced. The plot is fast moving with an underlying tension that encourages questions and second guesses. The twists and turns encourage the reader to turn the next page.
I did find the middle section – the why such a mess could occur – irritating, despite it being well enough developed. I struggled to accept that such a course of action would be contemplated by Bram despite the reasons given (as an aside, in the past I have been informed by authors that such difficult to believe situations have been based on real events, so what do I know?). It is fiction – I accepted to move on.
Threads are brought together in a devastating denouement, again with a few details that I struggled with given previous character development. The ending – the final lines – bring with them an ‘oh shit’ moment, although by this time I had little sympathy for the protagonists given their previous actions. I was left to ponder motives and consequences. I wonder why, as a reader, I insist on taking a story intended to entertain so seriously.
This is a well constructed and chilling domestic thriller that does a fine job in making the reader question if events could truly happen, especially the selling of a house without one owner knowing. I read it in a day which demonstrates how addictive such a tale can be.
Our House is published by Simon & Schuster