In My House turned out to be not the book any of us were expecting. At the start Maggie is returning from holiday and as she is walking through Gatwick, a young woman approaches her and whispers a single word: ‘Help.’ Maggie responds, and in that moment saves a stranger, earning Anja her freedom and ensuring the arrest of a brutal trafficker. This beginning led us to anticipate a tale with more tension and action – and centred around human trafficking, but that turned out to be peripheral to the main story. It was much more of a character study of a middle aged woman, and the surprises revealed are in her back story.
The Observer comment talks about ‘a pervasive thread of menace’ and certainly there were a few trails laid: the newspaper story and the unwanted publicity; some silent phone calls and the possibility that as Anja becomes more entwined in Maggie’s life she is taking advantage – maybe Maggie is going to become a victim of identity theft or revenge. However all this is well off the actual denouement. The ending did explain some of Maggie’s actions: her obsession with seeing if the story had spread in the media and her reluctance to follow Anja’s attempts to get her to contact relatives.
As a young and vulnerable woman, Anja represents an opportunity for Maggie to fill a void in her life that has been created both by her own stubbornness and previous events. As the story unfolds we become aware of the relationships and inherited characteristics between Maggie, her mother and her daughter.
Alex Hourston’s writing style is unusual and it created mixed reactions. The story is told in the first person and she uses a lot of very short sentences; dialogue is sometimes delivered as it is often actually spoken in life – short and hanging – sometimes only a single word. This impaired the reading flow. We all found at times we had to reread sections to get the sense. Some of her descriptive writing is lovely with pithy neat turns of phrase.