After reading the wonderful Bewildering Cares and Arrest the Bishop I was hoping for great things from Persephone’s reprint of House – Bound. I was not disappointed on my re read of this 1940s book. It is a book of the wartime home front in Edinburgh, where one of the main concerns is an actual house, stubbornly of another age; object of very mixed feelings for Rose Fairlaw.
The novel opens in an agency for finding domestic servants, which as a result of munition factory openings and a whole attitude change by young women formerly happy to work in genteel houses, cannot find and offer any staff. Rose meets up with her friend Linda, and discusses her intention to make her war work looking after the family house and cooking for her husband herself. This is a significant decision for a woman who has no clue about cooking, cleaning or any form of domestic work beyond the ordering of goods and services. Answering the door, the telephone and coping with dust will prove to be a full time occupation in a house built for a full set of servants, even though she is helped by a passing, organising stranger. Providing food for herself and her singularly unhelpful husband, especially in the face of rationing and shortages, brings her to her knees.
Another challenge is her grown up children. Rose’s family is what we would now call blended as she has a daughter, Flora, from her first husband killed in the First World War. Mickie is a much loved son from her husband’s, Stuart’s, first marriage to Rose’s friend who died tragically young. Tom is the son of this second marriage, and happily robust, down to earth and pacifies people with humour and understanding. Flora is very difficult, unhappy for so many reasons, a young woman with grudges against everyone, particularly her mother.
This could have been a family saga of gloom and doom, or a sad account of domestic woe. In Peck’s hands, however, it is an enjoyable account of what feels like real life. There are tragedies and challenges; after all this book was published in 1942 when the war was uncertain, dangerous and undecided. I felt for Rose in her domestic discoveries as she debates if vegetables need to be washed with soap and if dusting and polishing is essential when the room is unused. Her husband is icily isolated, feeling some sympathy for her exhaustion but unheeding that his routine causes so much work. There are some funny and appalling characters such as Grannie Carr Berwick, with her firm views and catch phrases.
This is a relatively short book but it packs a lot in, especially about the family dynamics which ring so true, especially in the tense setting of war. I enjoyed it more on a re read, seeing far more humour and empathy in the writing. It is a very good read, and a worthy reprint from Persephone.
The book with it’s endpaper; as usual a brilliant package from Persephone. I’m really looking forward to reading the latest acquisition, Long Live Great Bardfield, no.119 which Northernvicar bought from the Persephone bookshop itself. Another book written in 1942 apparently.