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Daughters Of The House
by Michele Roberts
Review

DAUGHTERS OF THE HOUSE

Cover Image Of The Book 'Daughters Of The House' By Author Michele Roberts

Booker Prize Finalist, Daughters of the House, is Michèle Roberts’ acclaimed novel of secrets and lies revealed in the aftermath of World War II.

Thérèse and Leonie, French and English cousins of the same age, grow up together in Normandy, at a time when France is struggling to come to terms with the legacy of war, from collaboration to loss.

Intrigued by parents’ and servants’ guilty silences and the broken shrine they find in the woods, the girls weave their own elaborate fantasies, unwittingly revealing the village secret and a deep shame that will haunt them in their adult lives. When they each have a vision in the woods, they find themselves at variance with each other. Whose story will be believed? Whose version of the truth will prevail?

MICHELE ROBERTS

Photograph Of Author Michele RobertsMichele was born in 1949, twenty minutes after her twin sister Marguerite, to a French mother and an English father. She grew up in Edgware, north-west London, although summer holidays were spent at the house of their French grandparents in Normandy, near Etretat in the Pays de Caux.

She read for a B.A. in English Language and Literature at Somerville, Oxford, then spent two years studying to become a librarian. She knew that she wanted to write, but decided after a year spent working for the British Council in South-East Asia, during the height of The Vietnam War, she needed to give up any idea of working as a librarian and instead began travelling, earning her living from a variety of part-time jobs.

Combining a variety of jobs, including journalist, reviewer and critic, Michele also became involved in a writers’ group, writing short stories, and working on her  first novel.

Life as a writer was very hard at first, however when Daughters of the House was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1992 and won the W.H.Smith Literary Award in 1993, she could finally give up the part-time jobs.

Michele has travelled extensively and has held positions as, Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing, chair of the British Council’s Literature Advisory Committee and as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of PEN and The Society of Authors. She turned down an O.B.E. because she is a republican, but was honoured to be made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

She has been married twice, has two stepsons, is close to her nieces and nephews, and spends as much time as possible with her friends. Friends are crucial to her, a source of great pleasure. As a writer she needs a great deal of solitude but in the evenings she likes to get out and have a good time.

“Love goes on. The love of friends. Friendship is my oxygen. I’ve said that often and it’s true. Writing goes on too: I keep on building my paper house; my chrysalis.”

Visit Michele at her website

MY THOUGHTS

Cover Image Of The Book 'Daughters Of The House' By Author Michele Roberts

As arguably one of the most successful and influential of Michele’s novels to date, I guess I expected this to be a work of some worth and consequence and I can’t say that I was disappointed. It has certainly made me eager to gather together some of her other novels, to add to my ever increasing TBR list.

It tells the story of two cousins, one French, the other English, raised together for much of their lives, by their respective mothers, at the family home in France.

Twenty years later, the French born cousin Therese, has spent much of her adult life as a nun, living in a convent, whilst Leonie, the English born cousin, has continued to live in the family home, with her husband, children and mother.

Now, Leonie’s mother Madeleine is dead, and both women want the family home to be theirs, so we find Leonie taking an inventory of the contents of the house.

The items on her list, become the chapters for the novel, and tell the story of the childhood memories they evoke.

I liked the way that the opening and final chapters of the book are set in the present day, with the middle section being devoted to the childhood events and memories, which all lead up to the current situation.

The chapters are kept short, with concise, high impact sentences, which kept my attention focused and meant that I could dip in and out of the book, although I would love to have read it in a single sitting.

It was also the first book that I can recall having read, that has no dialogue punctuation, which at first was a little disconcerting, but then became unnoticed.

When they are young, the cousins are very close, bound together by their exclusion from family secrets. Conversations held quietly by the adults tell of wartime secrets, room are designated ‘out of bounds’ and the woodland shrine a place of awe and horror.

As they approach teenage years, their friendship becomes more strained and loyalty is given more sporadically and grudgingly. Underlying jealousies begin to surface and secrets threaten their relationship.

When the shrine in the woods yields it’s terrible secret, the links it uncovers to the house and family, start to strip away the veneer of respectability and divide the girls’ loyalties even more.

The last vestiges of friendship between them are destroyed, when an even more terrible secret, this time about their birthright, is uncovered.

After all these years apart, both daughters still only have some of the pieces, but not enough to complete the jigsaw of events, so there can be no peace or reconciliation, for either of them. A complex set of clues lead to many possibilities, but no definitive conclusions, driving each to try and purge their demons, with horrific results….

To me, the novel is solely about the relationship between the two girls, other areas are touched on, but seem of no real consequence to the theme. The characters are all well defined in their roles and where they fit into the overall sequence of events and each are endowed with their unique dangerous energy, which is both subtle and persuasive, whilst being intense and compelling.

A fantastic read, I was sad when it was over.

Cover Image Of The Book 'Daughters Of The House' By Author Michele Roberts

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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6 comments
  • I’m not sure the cover appeals to me that much, but the book description is enough to pique my curiosity. Your review has it sounding even better (I really like the way the chapters are set up by item)… until that part about no dialog punctuation. I, too, can find that disconcerting, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

    While I might not rush out and add it to my TBR pile, I’ll certainly keep an eye out for this or others by the author. Glad you enjoyed it so, Yvonne!

    • Author Michele Roberts has been nominee and often winner of several prestigious book awards, during the course of her long and successful writing career, with her work verging on the point of literary fiction rather than any specific genre of novel.

      Daughters Of The House was written way back in 1992, which I might have said, accounted for the style of cover art, until I noticed that two further books from the early 2000s, used a very similar theming, so this was obviously a deliberate interpretation of the story line.

      Many reviewers found the short chapters a little disconcerting, but for me it was one of the attractions which only added to this very deep and dark premise.

      I’ll leave you with a link to Michele’s full title list and I’m sure you will see what I mean about her interesting story telling.

      https://www.fantasticfiction.com/r/michele-roberts/

      I hope you are enjoying your new found, blog free time and take care 🙂

  • What an excellent review, Yvonne! With its French setting it immediately appeals but also the plot sounds like something I would really enjoy. You clearly loved it and how nice is it when that happens? I shall go and investigate this on Amazon in a moment. I love the new look of your blog by the way.

    • I had intended to flag this book up to you, as it is very much in keeping with your love of stories and writing about France.

      As it is quite an ‘elderly’ book now, it is quite difficult to get hold of a copy that isn’t an astronmonical price. I read this one a while back now and my copy got put into the charity shop pile, or I would willingly have sent it down to you.

      The new look website is still very much a work in progress and is constantly being tweaked as we spot things which don’t quite hang together. However, I hope that the messaging is a little clearer now and my aim is to write with a bit more focus.

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope that all is well with you and that your coughs and colds have cleared up. Mine is just starting, so I am hoping that it doesn’t take to firm a hold! 🙂

      • Well, I managed to get a cheap copy on Amazon Marketplace so hopefully that’ll be here soon.

        I think you already write with excellent focus, Yvonne.

        No, unfortunately we’re still coughing and to mine has been added the joy of conjunctivitis. I sincerely hope it doesn’t get a firm hold on you, it won’t necessarily. Keeping my fingers crossed.

        • When your copy arrives, I do hope that you enjoy this book as much as I did. I am always so worried when someone spends good money on a book I have recommended, as one person’s perspective on what makes a great read, isn’t always necessarily the same as that of another.

          I know from previous experience just how long the cough can go on for, so I hope that you are feeling better soon. Anything to do with the eyes always scares me a little, as I have an inherent fear of damaging or losing my sight!

          Take care 🙂

Written by Yvonne

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