How frequently do our thoughts turn to family in one way or another? It must be dozens of times a day. We all have a family – we are all a daughter or a parent or a sibling – and there’s always something going on with one of them. It never takes long to fall back into familiar patterns when you’re at home together – you pinch your sister’s seat that's closer to the fire the second she leaves the room to make a cuppa in the TV ad break, knowing a childish argument will undoubtedly follow…
And that’s why books about families always throw up themes that make us think about how we’d behave in the same situation – we can all relate to something in most of them.
In Jenny Oliver’s The House We Called Home, Stella and Amy are grown-up siblings, homeward bound for Cornwall because their father has suddenly disappeared and their mother seems remarkably calm about the situation – in fact, downright unconcerned. But of course in the midst of the drama in the old Whitethorn family home both sisters have plenty going on in their own lives, and in tow are Stella’s husband and children and Amy’s new boyfriend, and their own relationships with each other are far from straightforward either.
This novel explores how change in one area of your life can shake up others. Both sisters are forced to look at their complex relationships with their parents, and confront old roles and feelings that they may have thought they’d left behind long ago.
It centres on the tricky situation of what’s going on in your parents’ marriage not really being any of your business, but it affecting you nonetheless. It’s about seeing them as people, as Moira and Graham, rather than just Mum and Dad. It’s about how couples adjust when their children are grown up. It’s about navigating your relationship with your parents as an adult, and how your family shapes how you behave with your own spouse or children in ways you’re not even aware of.
It looks at how having someone else in the mix – your sister’s boyfriend or a pal of your mother’s, say – can change the dynamic, or how your children’s interaction with your parents, their grandparents, can alter your perceptions as well.
There’s plenty of humour, touching moments, and situations that will have you nodding your head in recognition. The Whitethorns feel like real people; they’re not flawless, just ordinary people dealing with largely ordinary family issues.
By the conclusion of the tale, you’ll have laughed at times and maybe even welled up at others, and somehow the ending feels satisfying. Take The House We Called Home on holiday and enjoy; you know you’ll want to lose yourself in the pages and escape your own family for a bit at some stage…