The Ladies of the House is an unusual and enticing read from Molly McGrann, a read that worms its way under your skin and won’t let go. The gentle unfolding of a quite straightforward story got to me and that despite the fact that I found some of the scenes quite hard to read precisely because of the lack of drama.
So what is it all about? One day Marie Gillies is on her way to Heathrow when she spots a headline in the paper, three elderly people have all been found dead at a house in Primrose Hill. The weather had been very warm, there had been a spate of deaths, particularly in the vulnerable so why did Marie feel that these deaths were somehow connected to her?
I really don’t want to spoil any of the story for those of you who want to read this unusual novel but the house is the site of a former high-class brothel and at least one of the occupants has been present throughout its history but Marie lives in Kettering, with her widowed mother, many miles from Primrose Hill. Marie has a job in a linen shop, she isn’t any great beauty and her life consists of work followed by an evening eating treats in front of the TV with her elderly mother. This is ultimately a story about long-kept secrets, some which are discovered and others will forever remain a mystery to all except the characters who reveal them to the reader.
As is fitting for a book whose beginning starts in post-war England the story is told in the present day and using flashbacks allowing the reader to build the elements together to the finale, which quite frankly was a bit far-fetched but at least gave us the answer to the questions I posed in the opening paragraph. The author did give a good sense of time and place, I could easily visualise Soho from her descriptions as well as seeing the house which has deteriorated both in sense of looks and vitality from the days when it welcomed wealthy gentlemen to its inviting party atmosphere, for them a place of pleasure and relaxation.
This book has a lot to say but what it is telling us lies as much in the unsaid as the said, the characters are all, without exception individuals for whom life hasn’t gone the way they wanted it to, and their response hasn’t been to change and evolve, rather they have got stuck playing parts assigned to them many years ago. They live in a narrow world, one where other people rarely play a part and this gives a great feeling of claustrophobia and disappointment which co-exists against the stories told from years ago. Unfortunately this book had a vein of sadness running through it, despite being billed as a tragi-comic novel about hidden love and second chances, I only felt a profound sadness for many of the characters. For all that it is a book I’m glad I read, it kept my interest until the final page and I have a feeling that this one will be a book that it is hard to forget.
I’d like to thank the publishers Pan McMillan for allowing me to read The Ladies of the House which was published on 26 March 2015.