A House for Alice by Diana Evans

Alice decides that she wants to retun to Nigeria when she gets ‘tired’ and to die there despite the fact that her daughters think it would be wrong and worry about who would look after her. Well two of her daughters do and the third thinks that she should be enabled to do what she wants. And so the story goes backwards and forwards with the ‘will she, won’t she’ that sees money disappearing, fires, the death of her husband (who she no longer lives with) and a timidity on her part on occasions. In fact this is less a story about Alice and her house, as in building, and more about her daughters finding their way as they start to reach mid-life, with children, and so house here represents family tree or line.

One thing that Evans does do very well is give us the interiority of her characters, particularly the daughters and slowly as we work our way through the book, the abuse in the household when they were younger is revealed. Abuse from Cornelius, their father, who would shut them up in the cupboard under the stairs, who would shout and lose his temper and probably more with Alice. We have the shame of a child going to prison and then going into debt. We have the remorse of divorcing a man that you loved and loved you and was just right for you – boring bits and all.

What I didn’t think worked so well was the historical context Evans set the story in. This was the Grenfell fire but then I felt it didn’t really have an impact on the story afterwards. It was there and protests were mentioned but it didn’t come into the families orbit unless they were passing it. Perhaps Evans was alluding to the fact that those who were new to the country, who were poor or who ended up in the tower block were mistreated, given sub-standard accomodation and ignored when they complained. All very worthwhile including in a story but how does it relate to this one? Brexit was mentioned in passing and there is no doubt that it has had an impact on all our lives and I know from friends that it has also meant a loss of home and a starting of a new life and home in a European country because they were so upset about what it meant. But they were bit parts and neither deserved to be. We also had a reference to Boris Johnson but again it wasn’t integral to the story. Or was Evans trying to say that these sort of people, populist leaders, are divisive and we can lose our stable base, our home, because of them. I don’t know.

A friend recommended this book because she had loved it so much and I feel like I have missed something in it. I get the sense that I haven’t quite made the right connections within the book.

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