Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

My Life in Houses – Margaret Forster

Non-Fiction – Memoir
4*s

In hindsight so many of Margaret Forster’s books contain autobiographical detail but it was Hidden Lives which first really opened my eyes to the link between this talented story teller and her own background, although cleverly only ever apparent by reading between the lines. In My Life in Houses we learn more details about Margaret’s first house, the one on the Raffles estate which she was so ashamed of, preferring those on the better side of town. And though the book’s pages, we learn that from the tender age of seven this author began her own game of choosing another house to live in.

Of course, as an adult with a number of ‘important’ houses in her life, she realises that what she started with could have been so much worse, and so she explains how it defined her. How a house with only room for Margaret and her younger sister to sleep together in an alcove in their parent’s bedroom left her yearning for her own space. Even when the girls got older they had to share a bed even if they did have their own room because their older brother was off doing his national service at the time.

Having read Hidden Lives I was already aware that Margaret’s mother had aspirations and so eventually, through her hard work, although the money to fund the move and the increased rent was down to her husband working overtime, the family moved to the better side of town.

From here we follow Margaret to her student digs, her first house as a young married woman on the edge of Hampstead Heath, and beyond, including holiday homes both abroad and nearer her native Carlisle.

This is a fairly slim novel and the houses described are littered with personal details about the way she felt about neighbours, builders, her writing and sadly her illness. Sadly the cancer had already spread by the time she wrote this, her last piece of non-fiction, and more than likely is the explanation for the brevity and the matter of fact way she touches on her options is probably even harder to read in retrospect. Margaret Forster died on 8 February 2016 aged 77 having left a wealth of books behind to entertain and enlighten new generations of readers.

The most fascinating part of this book of however has nothing to do with the author and everything to do with how life changed so considerably between 1938 when she was born and 2014 when the book was published. Her early memories include the black-leading of the fireplace and not without a certain amount of wryness does she delight in this once hated job being integral in her second home in Carlisle. Of course Margaret Forster was more affluent than most but as she references sitting-tenants and shared bathrooms in the past she is describing the lives that certainly were the options open for my ancestors if they wanted to leave home. Life is very different with so many household gadgets nowadays but here is a woman describing the novelty of a home telephone.

For a different type of memoir this method is incredibly effective although I’m not sure I would have loved it quite so much had I not already had an insight not only into the author’s life but those important beliefs around feminism and socialism which seem to have featured long before they might have been expected to surface.

This copy of My Life in Houses was from the local library in my bid to support this wonderful community lifeline which has previously been such a huge part of my life. I would not be the reader I am now if it hadn’t been for libraries to keep me stocked up with books.

First Published UK: 6 November 2014
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Non-Fiction – Memoir
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Unknown Bridesmaid – Margaret Forster

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

I’m a big fan of Margaret Forster; she manages to write eloquently on a number of different subjects, this means that some topics will be more of interest than others. In The Unknown Bridesmaid the story revolves around a child psychologist, Julia which I found immensely readable.

The story is written from Julia’s perspective both in the present day revolving around her caseload of troubled young girls and her past; starting from the time she was asked to be a bridesmaid for her cousin Iris. Margaret Forster has a particular skill in depicting family relationships, not the sugar coated ones but the real life misunderstandings and difficulties that beset most families at one time or another. Julia spent the run up to the wedding terrified that this opportunity was going to be snatched away from her due to her mother’s anxiety. As Julia grows she spends more time with Iris and soon a terrible event changes the course of her life forever.

This book has themes of childhood memories, jealousy and guilt running through its pages. There are some wonderful characters although not necessarily likable ones.

This is an absorbing tale, well written with a real understanding of how a child processes information and memories. The only criticism I have is that the girls in Julia’s caseload seemed to be solved in a very simplistic manner, I presume this was to illustrate that all the girls needed was the wisdom of Julia’s advice but I found it a little bit too dismissive. Despite this it was well worth a read and a good example of how well Margaret Forster writes and her immense skill at handling difficult subjects.