House-Bound by Winifred Peck

I have so enjoyed everyone’s Persephone Week posts. It’s been wonderful to read about Persephones that I had previously not known much about, or which had gone under my radar. I especially enjoyed FleurFisher’s review of Marjory Fleming, Teresa’s review of Hetty Dorval, and Verity’s review of Julian Grenfell. It’s also been lovely to find new blogs through Persephone Week and I will be spending some time exploring these over the next few weeks.

I’ve been having a busy week so unfortunately I’ve only just managed the one Persephone, House-Bound, which I briefly touched on in a previous post. However, it was well worth spending a full five days reading it, as there is much more than meets the eye to discover within its pages. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the story and taking the time to dwell on its many interesting and thought provoking insights on life.

As I said before, this is ostensibly a book about Rose Fairlaw, a middle class wife and mother, learning to run her own home for the very first time due to the shortage of domestic staff available during the war. However, it soon emerged that this was very much a periphery theme compared to the other action within the novel, which centres around Rose and her relationships with various family members. Having lost her adored husband in the first war, and left to bring up their baby daughter Flora alone, Rose made a marriage of convenience to Stuart, the kind widower of her cousin and best friend, shortly afterwards, and became a mother to his  young son, Mickie, in the process. Together they had their own son, Tom, and life drifted on, with Rose and Stuart growing further emotionally distanced from each other as the years progressed. Rose is devoted to Mickie; a delicate child, she lavished care and attention on him, to the unintentional detriment of her biological daughter Flora, causing a rift between mother and daughter that has never been healed. Flora has grown into a demanding, jealous, difficult and proud woman, scorning her family, especially her mother, and spreading ill feeling everywhere she goes. Stuart is incapable of expressing his emotions and Rose relies heavily on her two sons, now soldiers fighting on the front line, for love and support. Theirs is not a happy home, and it is Rose’s realisation of this, and how she goes about changing things for the better, that forms the body of the novel.

Rose sees herself, her husband, and her daughter, as ‘House-Bound’; shut up in their own metaphorical houses with the doors and windows barred, unable to open themselves up to those around them and share the emotional turmoil within. As she learns to clean her physical house, Rose begins to get rid of the clutter inside her own mind and heart, and reach out to the husband she has allowed to become nothing but a fireside companion and the daughter she has never tried hard enough to understand. As the war rages outside of the walls of her home and tragedy strikes the everyday life she used to think of as so quiet and ordinary, Rose becomes dissastisfied with the way she has allowed herself and her relationships to become and dares to hope that she can make a new start of things. The more the foundations of her world are shaken, and the more uncertain her future appears, the richer Rose’s world becomes, as she learns to listen and act upon the desires of her heart, and break down the barriers of an old world order of decency and convention that have prevented her from expressing herself for so long.

This book was not what I had expected; I thought it would be a humourous, Provincial Lady style account of how a useless woman became domesticated, and though it does have its moments on this front, really, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s such a subtle, thoughtful, and heartfelt story about the importance of being true to yourself, and about daring to take risks in order to develop meaningful, rich relationships with those we love. At times it is hilariously funny, but at others it is almost unbearably sad, and frustrating, and painful; I was moved to tears at several points. Peck is also absolutely wonderful at exploring the often complicated relationships between siblings,  parents and children, and husbands and wives, showing how easy it is for jealousy, complacency and habit to creep in and rob relationships of emotional intimacy and true understanding. I cannot more highly recommend it. It is not all that it appears on the surface, but it is better for it, and it is a truly marvellous, sensitive, and powerful novel that really does give you food for thought on a lot of fronts.

As promised, I am also happy to report the immense success of the wonderful Jane Brocket’s talk at the V&A Women’s Institute on Monday; we were all simply enchanted by her, and awe struck by the beautiful quilts she showed us that are featured in her new book, pictured with House-Bound at the top, The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking. Jane very kindly gave me a copy to keep, and I have been so inspired by it; I can’t wait to try out one of her designs, but I might want to finish my current project first – just give me 20 years! Jane spoke to us about how and why she started her blog, and about the process of getting published, and where she got her ideas from. She also shared how she has learnt a lot as she has gone along, and how she is by no means an expert at a lot of the things she does, such as knitting and quilting – hard to believe from the lovely things she makes! What I loved the best was her insistence that you don’t have to be perfect or do things the ‘right’ way all the time – making things you love for yourself is not about being faultless, but about creating something lovely, and if you can’t do it perfectly or want to take shortcuts, it doesn’t matter! This made me feel so liberated and inspired to just give things a go – if Jane can do it, so can I!  Her passion and dedication, and her ability to inspire and encourage others, is, in my opinion, why she has made such a success from her creative skills. It was such a pleasure to listen to her speak and also to meet her, and my admiration for her has only grown!

In other news, thank you very much to everyone who wished me a happy birthday for yesterday. Despite being at work I had a lovely day, and amongst other things, I got two gorgeous new books that I am very excited about – Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green, and Richard Yates’ Collected Stories, courtesy of my sister. I also got a swish new camera (thanks Mum and Dad!), which means I can take photos again! Hurrah! So a very good haul, and you know what? I don’t even feel any older!

30 comments

  1. I’m so glad to hear you liked House-Bound because it’s one of the Persephones I lucked out and got on BookMooch last year! I just love books that offer more than they appear to on the surface, and this sounds like it really achieves that.

    And happy belated birthday! Yates, Mitford, and a new camera makes up a very nice haul🙂

    1. Oh I’m glad you have a copy, Teresa – I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it. Thank you so much! It was a good haul indeed, and I can’t wait to get immersed in those Yates stories!

  2. Belated birthday wishes, Rachel! I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.

    Lovely new books and I wish you great photographs taken with the new camera; my mum-in-law lost her camera on recent holiday (it was, erm, dropped down a canyon by dad-in-law) and they were unable to take photos of the six days they were stranded in Schiphol Airport!

    House-Bound sounds fascinating, of course.

    1. Thanks Claire! Looking forward to seeing you too!
      I can’t wait to get snapping with my camera – I so miss my stolen one! Your poor mum in law – not even her fault! I know how she feels!

      It is fascinating – quiet and thoughtful, the best type of book in my opinion!

  3. I love the cover of that book of collected stories!

    Great review. I had never even heard of Persephone before! Now adding House-Bound to my to-read list…

    -Madeleine

  4. Belated Happy Birthday Rachel! What a lovely review! This book is going on my Persephone wish-list. Lovely gifts you received….I love Nancy Mitford though I haven’t read Wigs on the Green and I’m a Richard Yates fan now all because of your book reviews.

    1. Thanks so much Astrid! Glad you enjoyed the review – I am certain it would be a pleasurable read for you. Didn’t I get gorgeous books? Glad you are a fan of Yates now! I won’t be able to resist those short stories for long so reviews will be coming shortly!

  5. I think this is my first time commenting on your blog, but I feel it is rude not to congratulate you on your birthday of 2 days ago. Although I admit it is a bit weird to congratulate you as a first time commenter as well.

    House-Bound sounds like another Persephone I’d love to read. I often feel weird when a book is not what I expected, but I love that it was still a good (or even better) read to you because of it.

    1. Hi Iris! I’m sure you’ve come by before! Thanks for the lovely birthday wishes, they are much appreciated!

      Yes – sometimes books are better for being different to expectations, and this was a much richer read than I had expected. I hope you get to read it soon.

  6. I am reading this now – we will need to discuss over copious amounts of tea! Also, I am seriously coveting your copy of Wigs on the Green – I may actually have to buy it as I’m not sure I can even wait the 3 seconds for you to read it before borrowing!

  7. Belated Happy Birthday wishes, Rachel! Its been such a busy week for you…I hope you managed to have some cake!

    Thanks to your review I now have House-Bound on my wishlist. I too, thought it was going to be full of ‘Lucille Ball/Provincial Lady’ type moments, glad that you mentioned it was even more than that.

    LOVE the cover art on the Yates!

    1. Thanks Darlene! I did thank you – I have eaten LOTS of cake all week! And a trifle!

      I think you’ll love House-Bound – much meatier than it appears. And isn’t the Yates beautiful?! I almost have a complete collection of those covers now!

  8. Your picture of your books is so beautiful, Rachel. Taken with your new birthday camera perchance?

    Your review of House-Bound is beautiful as well. I will look forward to reading it someday soon. I will have to find Jane Brocket’s book on quilts here. It looks so lovely and would be a perfect gift for a quilt maker friend of mine. Then, again, maybe two? I’m such a selfish person.

    1. Thanks! Yes it is – such a snazzy camera – it can do anything!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the review. It’s so worth reading. The book on quilts is being published in the US so you should be able to get hold of it soon. Treating yourself is not selfish in the least! Buy two!

  9. I’ve enjoyed following along the Persephone Book Week as well. I don’t own even one but that’s going to change soon. Your top picture is so beautiful. To me, it’s worth the price of the book to see those beautiful end papers.

    1. It’s fun isn’t it? I think I saw that you won a Persephone so you can get started now! The endpapers are stunning – Persephones aren’t cheap but they are expensive for a reason. When books look that good and are also brilliant to read, the cost is irrelevant!

  10. Happy Birthday! What a nice haul – books and a camera? Perfect! I just got a copy of Wigs on the Green in the mail and can’t wait to read it. Such a treat to have a new Mitford! Loved your review of House-Bound, and also your description of Jane Brocket’s talk. I wish I could have been there – it sounded fascinating and so inspirational! Thanks for the super report🙂

    1. Thank you! I know, I did well! I am loving Wigs on the Green – hope you are too! You are welcome – Jane is indeed a very inspirational lady and I count myself lucky to have met her!

  11. I’m a day late and a dollar short as usual – Happy Birthday. Fab photo’s. I’m a great admirer of Jane Brocket too, although I don’t craft or knit or quilt I love her book reviews!

  12. A very belated happy birthday from me as well. I love the short stories by Richard Yates. They are quite masterful and brilliant. I hope that you enjoy them.

  13. Belated happy birthday, Rachel! I’ve been so busy during Persephone Week (not because of the books, but on the homefront) that it’s only now that I’m getting around to reading everyone’s posts. House-Bound is a title I wasn’t particularly interested in, but you’ve certainly piqued it now. The cover of the quilt book is gorgeous!

    1. Thank you Claire! I think House-Bound will actually be of real interest to you, Claire – it’s a very thoughtful book that would suit your taste, in my opinion. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s textured as well so it has a wonderful feel too. A gorgeous book all round!

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