Today I’m pleased to welcome Morgan McCarthy to the blog. Morgan is the author of Strange Girls and Ordinary Women, The Other Half of Me and The Outline of Love and her latest novel, The House of Birds, was published by Tinder Press on 3 November 2016. The House of Birds features an abandoned, derelict house, left to Katie and to which Oliver is inexplicably drawn. Today Morgan discusses other neglected houses that feature in novels.
Nine Neglected Houses in Novels
(Great Expectations, Charles Dickens)
One of the most famous fixer-uppers in fiction, Satis House is owned by the imperious, insane Miss Havisham, who has left the entire place as a horrifying shrine to her own ill-fated wedding day, rotting feast and all. It would take more than a little TLC to save either the owner or the house – their fortunes inextricably linked – and death and ruin await them both.
(Slade House, David Mitchell)
In this intensely spooky novel, two very strange siblings occupy Slade House, a shifty mansion hidden behind a door in a wall. Visitors lured through the door have a tendency to disappear, as does the door itself. When the mysterious owners’ powers are waning, the house and gardens too begin to lose their substance: their colour and texture takes too much energy to sustain, and the sinister pair behind the vision become vulnerable to defeat.
(Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh)
Charles Ryder, an officer in WW2, finds himself billeted at Brideshead, the ancestral home of the troubled, glamorous Marchmain family. Charles wanders the house – its beautiful fireplaces and wallpaper abused by its new occupants, the rest of its treasures hidden away or boarded up – and sees his own history. And as we travel back with him through the great love affairs of his life, the one that seems finally the most compelling, and the longest-enduring, is his relationship with the house itself.
(I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith)
Though Rose Mortmain sees ‘nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud,’ her younger sister Cassandra adores their family’s ramshackle castle, the ‘peculiar’ home that has history, beauty and romance coming out of its ears. Adulthood and love soon come calling for Cassandra, but she ends the novel as she began, writing her journal, capturing Godsend Castle so perfectly and beautifully that generations of readers have fallen for it too.
(Angel, Elizabeth Taylor)
The enjoyably monstrous Angel has always romanticised the local pile, Paradise House – much as she romanticises everything else in her life. As a shopkeeper’s young daughter, Angel fantasises about living there, and when she becomes a successful novelist she buys it and turns it into a mad, lavish palace as over the top as Angel herself. Later, book sales dwindle, Angel’s health declines, and the house too begins to slump into damp and decay. Yet to the last she refuses to admit defeat, claiming that ‘the whole house shall be painted and made pretty again,’ with money only she can imagine, and time she doesn’t have.
(Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte)
Everyone’s heard of this farmhouse in the Yorkshire Moors, birthplace of the original love-hate relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy. The house is a battleground; conflict and misery seems built into its walls, old as the crumbling griffins. With its unyielding gate, heaps of dead rabbits, and ghosts clawing at the windows, it’s not for the faint of heart. It is the late Cathy’s daughter Catherine, tricked into a life at the farm with the villainous Heathcliff as warder, who brings about a
change. When she recovers her own sense of purpose, it is through the farm itself that she expresses her will, clearing thorns and planting flowers. This signals the beginning of the end for Heathcliff: he loses his lust for revenge, abandons his plans to demolish the house, and – not long afterwards – dies.
Cold Comfort Farm
(Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons)
In this brilliantly witty send-up by Stella Gibbons, the forthright Flora arrives at the ‘doomed house’ of her solemn, tormented relatives, the Starkadders. She finds a dirty, neglected farmhouse ‘sinking into decay before her eyes’. But Flora is undaunted, and sets about civilising house and relatives alike (beginning with the curtains). And when all is tidy, quiet and ‘blessedly peaceful,’ Flora knows her work is done.
The Lisbon House
(The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides)
Told by the boys left brokenhearted by the deaths of the Lisbon sisters, a haunting atmosphere pervades this story even before the deterioration of the Lisbon house and family begins. After Cecilia Lisbon kills herself, death seems to arrive like a cloud of spores at the house (the ‘big coffin’) in which her sisters are confined by their fearful parents. The girls’ freedom is choked off, as is the house. Inside, rubbish accumulates, stale smells hang in the air, dirt coats the windows, the roof begins to leak. When the final suicides occur, they seem an almost inevitable conclusion to the process of decay that has taken hold.
Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
The novel begins with the nameless heroine’s dream vision of the beautiful Cornwall mansion of Manderley – now an empty shell, with its gardens overgrown and wild. She tells the story of her arrival at Manderley years earlier, as a young woman intimidated both by the house and the idea of her terrifyingly perfect predecessor Rebecca. The two seem linked in her mind. Even after the house gives up its macabre secrets, Rebecca is defeated, and the heroine gets her ‘happy’ ending, Manderley rises from the ashes to haunt her again.
About the book:
“A derelict house. A portrait of a marriage. And a story of love from the author of the acclaimed THE
OTHER HALF OF ME. For readers of THE THIRTEENTH TALE and MY DEAR I WANTED TO TELL YOU.
Morgan McCarthy’s THE HOUSE OF BIRDS is a beautiful and bewitching story of love, war and second chances that will be adored by readers of Louisa Young and Virginia Bailey.
Oliver has spent years trying to convince himself that he’s suited to a life of money making in the city, and that he doesn’t miss a childhood spent in pursuit of mystery, when he cycled around the cobbled lanes of Oxford, exploring its most intriguing corners.
When his girlfriend Kate inherits a derelict house – and a fierce family feud – she’s determined to strip it, sell it and move on. For Oliver though, the house has an allure, and amongst the shelves of discarded, leather bound and gilded volumes, he discovers one that conceals a hidden diary from the 1920s.
So begins a quest: to discover the identity of the author, Sophia Louis. It is a portrait of war and marriage, isolation and longing and a story that will shape the future of the abandoned house – and of Oliver – forever.”