Like a House on Fire by Caroline Hulse
Publishing Date: 14th May 2020
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 416
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
George and Stella’s marriage is over. They can’t decide exactly when that happened (Was it the coke can? Or that comment about Jurassic Park?), but they both agree that it has.
A couple of months after the separation, Stella’s mother, Margaret “The Force of Nature” Foy sends out invites for her murder mystery anniversary party – with George on the invite list. Stella hasn’t told her parents about the divorce, she couldn’t bring herself to. And with her father’s business shutting down, Margaret’s recent cancer diagnosis, and some very odd behaviour from her older sister Helen, now is clearly not a good time.
All they have to do is make it through the day without their secret being discovered. And in doing so, they may find each other again – or see their past and future both go up in flames…
Stella and George have just separated, and it’s really not nice between them at the moment. They’re about to tell Stella’s family about the forthcoming divorce but they’ve just been invited to Stella’s parents to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Margaret, who is hosting the party, has written a murder mystery and there is no option of not coming, especially as she was diagnosed with cancer and everybody knows that it’s, in fact, a farewell party for her. So no way Stella and George can tell them about the separation – they simply have to go and pretend nothing is wrong. But as it turns out, there are many things that are more than wrong, not only in Stella and George’s relationship. It quickly becomes clear that the whole family has been hiding secrets and truths are being held back… But we all know that the truth always comes out, at the least appropriate moment…
I absolutely adore this author’s approach to family and family dynamics – she sees things how they really are and finds the most absurd elements, presenting us with a brilliant, take – no – prisoners drama/comedy with endearing characters that are sharply written and brilliantly developed. The characters were really written in a great way and I quickly found myself totally immersed in their lives, laughed at their jokes, rolled my eyes at their quirks and them behaving in a way that was, yes, sometimes irritating and childish – shortly, I fell for them even if they fed me up to my back teeth.
I was prepared for it to be a Stella and George story but it turned out that they have a huge family – but the more, the merrier! Margaret is hosting the party to celebrate the anniversary with her husband Tommy, and she’s the one who has written the play. Tommy is obsessed with his shop that he has handed over to his son – in – law. Stella and George are on the verge of divorce and Helen is on the verge of a nervous breakdown – the story is told through their points of view and it quickly becomes clear that there is so much more to them all, and that they all have their own secrets which they’re guarding, hiding and protecting. The characters’ voices are distinctive, strong and different and they are all so vivid and so full of life, and it’s really easy to picture them all.
It was a hugely entertaining read filled with complex and complicated relationships and very sharp observed. I absolutely loved the circle the book did, beginning and winding down with the same characters, and also the meeting in the supermarket has given the story a kind of a wrap – up, giving me my dream conclusion, leaving me totally satisfied. And I love the chosen title – when you read the book you will so appreciate it!
The banter between characters is good, guys, it’s so good in fact that it is incredibly easy to visualise the scene, to hear the characters talking to each other. And it was really easy to relate to the characters, to feel what they’re going through and it quickly becomes crystal clear that there is so much more to every single one of them than you can think at first. Caroline Hulse has a great way with words, her writing style immediately catches your attention and draws you into the story. Her words are sharp, honest and genuine and she can perfectly well capture family dynamics and all kinds of relationships. But she doesn’t exaggerate in her descriptions, and even the most crazy things that happen in the book still seem believable, like things that could happen to you and your family.
The idea of the family murder mystery dinner party was absolutely my cup of tea, I had a pleasure to attend such a dinner (though not a family party!) once and it was such a great fun, and really, you can learn TONS about other people during such party. I was maybe hoping for a real murder in this story to be honest, I think Ms Hulse is able to pull something like this off, but with all the other drama I could live without real corpse – there was enough of other events and little fires everywhere to keep me glued to the pages.
I loved Caroline Hulse’s debut novel, “The Adults”, and “Like a House on Fire” was one of my most anticipated books this year – I literally couldn’t wait to get this book in my hands and to start reading, and let me tell you, the book doesn’t disappoint. It’s as good as the author’s first novel and already full of Ms Hulse’s trademark sharp, astute and straight on point observations and down – to – earth approach to reality. It is a perfect blend between fun and serious and the underlying themes of sadness and seriousness are injected with the most perfect dry and dark humour. It was an addictive, entertaining and thought – provoking read and Caroline Hulse is already at the top of my auto – buy authors.