My latest read was a book I had spotted on social media which intrigued me with its title and premise. Morgan McCarthy’s latest novel is a story of past and present centred around a derelict house and the secrets that lie within.
‘I can’t guess how you are: I have no idea what it must be like to be you. For the first time, I cannot even imagine it. Your life is a closed door, at which my outstretched hand fails, and drops back.’
This is a story of Oliver Mittell, a man disenchanted with a life living and working in the city, who one day makes a discovery that intrigues and fascinated him. It begins when his girlfriend Kate, whom he met in childhood, inherits a derelict house. It is a house one that he had seen before, leaving him with a memory that stays with him into adulthood. He remembers it fondly as ‘The House Of Birds’ due to its distinctive wallpaper, but with the house in disrepair it seems destined to be emptied and sold. However, Oliver is attracted to the property, and in the process of clearing, something draws him to investigate further, and discover the secrets of its past. This leads to the discovery of a diary which has been hidden away amongst the numerous discarded books. The diary dates back to the 1920’s and within its pages are details of a past life and all the secrets it contains. Secrets belonging to its mysterious author – Sophia Louis. Oliver is left desperate to find out more, and so begins a journey to discover the truth about Sophia and her extraordinary life.
‘he had been looking for refuge and here he found it – or created it, threading together the house and Sophia and his own fantasies, spinning it around himself as delicately and carefully as a spiders web.’
I really liked the idea of this story so from the opening pages I was gripped and keen to find out more about Oliver and about those characters we discover from reading the diary. The narrative alternates between that of Oliver and excerpts from the diary so we get to see Sophia’s story in her own words. The story is told over six parts which switch back and forth through time as the reader discovers Sophia’s story along with Oliver. And Sophia’s story is a fascinating one and I really enjoyed her character. We see how the war has impacted her and her marriage particularly in relation to her husband who returns home from the war a different man to the one who left. Her story is one of loneliness and longing and I felt a lot of sympathy towards her as she deals with living in an unhappy marriage whilst she is desperate for something more. As her story developed I was even more intrigued to find out how things worked out for her and how the events from her past intertwine with those of the present. I would say this novel is of a slower pace but it was an enjoyable, beautifully written story. I really enjoyed the vivid descriptions which helped to create a sense of time and place, and I loved the nostalgic feel to the writing and the long hidden secrets and stories that arise from one man’s curiosity.
‘Did other people suffer this: these obscene or offensive detours of the imagination, coming out of nowhere, as if implanted by some sinister other?
The House Of Birds is an enjoyable read that sees past memories interwoven with the present. It is a story of a past life, and how long held secrets can change the lives of others forever.