On a bright Friday morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought on Trinity Avenue. Nothing strange about that.
Except it’s your house.
And you didn’t sell it.
Our House by Louise Candlish is a masterfully plotted thriller that could only have been written by a very clever and competent author. Candlish keeps us guessing right up until the very end, always hinting at darker things to come but in a masterful way that means we’re never completely certain of what is going on. I like to pride myself on my ability to guess a plot-twist before it emerges but, with this book, I openly gasped a couple of times as I was hit with a twist that I simply did not see coming. In my eyes, that shows the work of a truly intelligent writer.
The novel is told from four perspectives: a third-person narrative focalising on Fi in the present day after she returns home to find that it is no longer hers; a second third-person narrative focalising on her husband Bram – the man behind this ordeal – also in the present; and two first-person narratives from each of these characters, written in the present but detailing the events leading up to this situation. It is these two perspectives that are perhaps the most interesting part of the novel as they continually hint at two possibly unreliable narrators. Fi is telling her story to a podcast called The Victim, which details the accounts of people who have been victims of crimes in their own words. Bram’s words come in the form of a ‘found text’, one he writes in order to confess all of his demons before he plans to commit suicide. You could argue that Fi’s text would be less trust-worthy as she is going to be judged by many listeners and so may orchestrate her version of events in a way that earns her more sympathy, while Bram will have nothing left to lose once his text is found as he hopes to be dead. However, the expert writing of Candlish means that we are constantly kept guessing, never sure who to trust and as Fi says herself, “it’s hard to tell the difference…between hero and villain. Don’t you think?” (283).
Another compelling part of this novel is its treatment of the theme of technology. As Fi tells her story through the podcast, listeners continually tweet in reply to her words, giving us their opinions on her and her ordeal. However, there is a clear distance between Fi and the listeners; she is not really a human being to them but a form of entertainment. The listeners often joke back and forth to each other in these tweets, seeming to forget the pain that Fi has been through. One even refers to Fi’s friend as a “character”, emphasising this distance between them (152). This technique allows Candlish to comment on the dangerous nature of technology and how we are all, as human beings, becoming so removed from each other, isolating ourselves behind the screen of our latest device and judging people from afar, never really understanding or even attempting to understand. Bram and Fi also organise their lives and their shared custody of their two children wholly through a diary app, in which they can list pick-up times, appointments, etc. Their whole lives are mapped out through this app and any change will be communicated through it. Again we see the dangers of technology and cry out for verbal communication and real human contact.
The final aspect I love about this book is the way in which it explores ideas of marriage and ‘the Home’. Candlish openly criticises how many middle-class people define themselves through the home and area in which they live. Even after Fi learns the full extent of her situation (including the heinous crimes involved), her friends continue to ask how long it will be until she can return to the opulence of Trinity Avenue, as though their friendship hangs on location. Another way in which the author scrutinises ideas of marriage and ‘the Home’ is through her exploration of the concept of ‘Bird’s Nest custody’ – a shared custody arrangement in which the children live in the same family home, while the two parents take turns of living there and in a second home, swapping over on a regular, pre-arranged basis. After separating, Fi and Bram try this custody arrangement as they believe it will be be best for their two sons to remain in the home they had grown up in and experience less change. It is through both this arrangement and Fi’s eventual homelessness that her original obsession with her home begins to change and she admits,
the idea of the perfect house eluded me like a rake in an old romance novel. Of course, if I had my time again I probably wouldn’t touch a thing. I’d concentrate on the humans. I’d repurpose them before they destroyed themselves.
This idea of searching for the perfect life is also explored within the realm of Fi and Bram’s marriage. Candlish reveals how to one person a marriage and children may be like “shackles”, while to another, being away from family is like missing “a sense like sight or touch” (140, 187). This is an interesting theme to cover in our time as marriage is no longer something everyone sees as a necessary development in life. We live in a world where some question the need to put a label on love, while others can’t wait to celebrate their love for each other in front of friends and family and like the idea of being tied to one person for the rest of their lives. Candlish questions the idea of the ‘perfect life’ and what that includes, suggesting things do not need to be set in stone or stick to a particular criteria. She writes,
what or where or who you love is only ever borrowed. There is no permanent ownership, not for any of us.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the issues covered within it. Have you read it? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments below!