Catherine Simpson’s memoir is not a book easy to review. First of all, it is of course non-fictional, second, it is a very personal report on a sister’s emotions and thoughts after her younger sibling committed suicide. This makes it difficult to use phrases like “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” since they simply don’t work here. It is also somehow out of question to discuss the tone of writing as while reading it, I had the impression that it was much more written for Simpson herself than necessarily for a reader. It seemed to me to be her way of coping with the situation and sorting out her thoughts and feelings.
I appreciated her openness in sharing her sometimes contradictory emotions, in not embellishing her own role in her sister’s life. She presents episodes where she was nasty as a kid or where she simply did not pay enough attention to Tricia’s needs. This surely is not easy to talk about. But this is exactly the point she is making: in their family, they never talked. The girls were taught to be silent, not to ask too many questions and best not to be seen at all. They did not have a poor childhood, they had good times and fun on the farm, too, but the family’s way of coping with emotions certainly played a role in the development of Tricia’s illness and final suicide.
The book definitely gives a good insight in living with depression and how the loved ones who are left behind after someone chose to end his or her life feel guilty and wonder if they could have done more. I don’t think there is much you can actually do to protect and help people with serious mental health issues, but you can certainly work on talking more with the people around you.
Finding a house in London is more or less impossible; therefore, Sydney and Jack are happy when they finally get one. It is not what they have dreamt of, but, with the time, they became realistic about what is possible and accepted the offer. Soon after they move in, strange things start to happen and they become more and more alert: is the house haunted or is somebody playing tricks on them? Is it because they interfered with the neighbour? His daughter confided herself in Sydney and awoke bad memories in her: just like Betsi, Sydney was suffering under her father’s temper and violence throughout her childhood. Unable to find help, she ran away at the age of 14 and left her younger sister with the situation at home alone. A bad conscience makes Sydney support the young neighbour, but obviously, her father is going to stop this. Or is the threat coming from somewhere completely different? No matter what is behind, soon Sydney and Jack find themselves in danger and even start losing faith in each other.
Simon Lelic’s novel starts a bit as a surprise, it’s not the typical third person narrator we have, but a kind of diary entries or letters that the two protagonists write to each other. So we have Jack’s and Sydney’s perspective in alternation which makes it quite lively and authentic, especially since you get the impression of the highly stressful situation they are in and which has gone out of control. The way they write reflects their emotional state, it is repetitive, not well organised and thought through but rather like a stream of consciousness just coming out of their mouth.
The plot itself has many surprises to offer, at first you are with the protagonists, not knowing what is happening and always trying to make sense of what they write. Then, slowly, you realise that Sydney and Jack have hidden some useful and important information from you, too, and you start getting sceptical about actually trusting them. As the novel moves on, you have to adjust your idea of the characters and the action again and again which I liked a lot since you could never feel absolutely secure about it.
“The House” really deserves the label “thriller”. Quite often, you feel a cold shiver running down your spine when again something strange happens in the house. The characters’ actions are all credibly motivated and the plot itself is convincingly constructed. The strongest aspect for me was the psychological construction behind the story; knowing what Sydney went through, you can understand her reaction when she finds out about Betsi’s life at home. But also Sydney’s mother – even though she is a rather tragic figure – can be understood in her way of behaving. So, the novel is not just playing on your nerves with a thrilling plot, but also offer some insight in emotionally induced actions and decisions.