'I wanted to walk right out of my life and leave it behind.'
Sometimes one way I can see how much I loved a book is by how many sentences or paragraphs I tab with little sticky notes to come back to and think about again once I've finished. There were a lot of places I marked in this book. There were parts of the prose that resonated with me, that moved me, and parts where the use of language particularly appealed to me. In summary, I thought this was a very special book.
Rachel Moore has suffered a sad loss and moves from Birmingham to the countryside, to get away and start afresh. She is a solitary soul, having grown up in care, though having a brief period with some loving foster parents. She meets Lacey Carmichael, the older lady living next door. Lacey is another isolated soul, teased by the local children, labeled as the mad woman down the road, she is misunderstood and lonely. Then she is accused of a terrible crime.
A connection forms between them, and they begin to trust each other, and to share painful things with each other that they have never told anyone else. They've both experienced such sadness and from sharing their secrets a friendship blossoms despite the difference in their ages. The development of this friendship between Rachel and Lacey over the course of the book is wonderful and fascinating to observe. As time passes, Rachel thinks about how she feels about Lacey: 'I found that I cared for her very deeply, that her vulnerability had somehow pulled me closer and I carried her words, her story, like a heavy cloak about my shoulders.' Rachel attempts to express the pain and sorrow in Lacey's past through her artwork.
'Her memories came home with me. Walking straight into my studio, I mixed them with acrylics; different shades of blue and deep, swirling turquoise that I threw at the huge canvas as I painted her sorrow, a raging, tumultuous thing that, when I was finished, left me breathless and empty.'
The chapters alternate between the two of them, Rachel's in the first person and Lacey's in the third, and the story progressed and worked really well written in this way.
Rachel likes and trusts Lacey, but doesn't yet know the whole truth; she, and the reader, are kept in suspense. Rachel fears that in the future she too might experience the depths of isolation that Lacey has;
'In fifty years time would it be me standing where Lacey was, with the past eating into me from the inside? I recoiled from the idea of experiencing for myself the stark loneliness that had been so apparent in Lacey's eyes.'
Joanne Graham writes with immense insight, empathy, warmth and poignancy about these women's lives and pasts, and writes sensitively and honestly about themes of mental health, loneliness and loss of a child, about damaging things that happen in people's lives which they are scarred by and understandably spend much time and energy grappling with. I felt emotional as I read, I was angry at the cruelty in Lacey's past, at what people could get away with. So much of a person's past can be hidden away, unknown, unvoiced. I empathised with and liked both Rachel and Lacey, and they both felt very real to me as I was reading. As Lacey thinks to herself, 'How sad for them both that they had to grow up without loving families.' As well as creating engaging, rounded characters, the author tells a powerful story.
For me, Lacey's House is a wonderful, incredibly moving and very special story of female friendship across generations. It has stayed in my mind since reading it and it made me think. Beautifully, sensitively written, perceptive and touching, I think it was a very worthy recipient of the Luke Bitmead Bursary, a superb debut novel and I'd say it's one of my reading highlights of the year so far.
Thank you to the publisher for kindly sending me a copy of this novel for an honest review.
Published by Legend Press