Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Review: Lily’s House – Cassandra Parkin

Upon the news of her grandmother’s death, Jen is forced to travel to the coast to sort out Lily’s affairs. Leaving her moping husband behind, Jen and her twelve-year-old daughter, Marianne, spend a couple of weeks at Lily’s house, a place that Jen hasn’t been since she cut off all ties from her grandmother years before. As Jen delves into piles of paperwork and Lily’s belongings, she begins to strip through layers and layers of truth, each time uncovering yet another mystery or secret to disentangle.

Presented as a nostalgic novel in which Jen returns to a place that holds many cherished childhood memories, Lily’s House is a surprisingly dark read. Though the blurb alludes to the intrigue of familial secrecy and it is clear that Jen is going to lead us on an unearthing of a hidden family past, it doesn’t quite prepare you for the full extent of what is to come.

Lily’s House is a book about secrets of all forms: familial secrets, personal secrets, secrets kept from the public and even those secrets you keep from yourself. Secrecy, as you come to learn, is also a present between narrator and reader, through gradual revelations from the past and through aspects of Jen’s life that she can barely admit to herself.

Inevitably, this secrecy on Jen’s part creates a barrier between her narrative voice and the reader, one which doesn’t allow for much empathy or personal connection. This barrier is strengthened further by the fact that we don’t really get a sense of Jen as a person in her own right, despite the first person narration. We learn what Jen was like as a granddaughter, we know her as a dutiful wife, we see her as a mother and we get snippets of her as a daughter, but we don’t know about Jen’s interests, about the things that inspire her, or the things that make her who she is.

Although this serves a purpose in showing Jen’s challenging childhood, her commitment to her husband and daughter and her slight detachment from the world around her caused by deafness, it does stop the novel’s poignant moments from reaching the hard-hitting potential they could perhaps deliver had the reader developed an emotional connection.

There are also a couple of incongruous characters and situations thrown into the plot that don’t quite pass the authenticity test (most specifically Jen’s nauseating text conversations with her husband, and the slightly exaggerated friction between her and Lily’s elderly neighbour), however one of Parkin’s great successes in this book is the consistency and detail of astute, yet universal, insights into familial relationships.

Alongside the continual unravelling of secrets and dark themes such as adultery, domestic violence and death, Lily’s House is laced with threads of enchanting nostalgia, particularly involving Lily’s witch-like second sight. Parkin skilfully intertwines Lily’s gifts and other such mystical elements into the novel, subtly securing their credibility from the offset.

As the secrets spin out thicker and faster, Lily’s House becomes more and more of a page turner. Though you begin the novel with just a mild curiosity, the suspense of chapters to come wills you to finish the book in as few sittings as physically possible.

*I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for a review, but all opinions and words are my own. Affiliate links may have been used in this post.

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