Character Houses

Our House, published 7th April by Piccadilly Press

The houses (or homes) we live in are such an important part of who we are, whether or not we actually like them. And houses can have different personalities. They are not just the stage upon which our lives acts are played out, but perhaps, at times they can be characters in their own right.

In my new book, Our House, the house itself is just such a character. It talks, groans, grumbles, sings and sighs. It also locks people in or out from time to time. It has gloomy, cold parts and warm, comfortable parts. The main character, Chloe, is unsure about the house at first, but as time goes on she becomes to understand the house is a part of her family, for better or worse.

In assembling this list, I’ve tried to choose houses which themselves seem to have a personality which affects the story.

1) The Strawberry Villa. My Family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Actually one of two villas Durrell lives in on Corfu. The description of the house and the surrounding countryside is an essential ingredient in Durrell’s writing. The villa is the stage for most of the family dramas, as well as a laboratory and zoo for Durrell’s fascination with animals, both dead and alive. The scene in which Leslie awakens to a terrible smell and comes out to find Gerry “disembowelling Moby Dick on the veranda,” is one of the funniest in literature.

2) Manderley. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Manderley represents so much more than just a house in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It represents wealth and success, a sense of seclusion and protection. And yet, the house has a dark side, harbouring terrible secrets, a violent history and an uncertain future.

3) Wuthering Heights. From Emily Bronte’s classic. A dark, bleak house described as though it was a person. Mirroring Heathcliff’s dark, forbidding character, the house sits and sulks, at once exposed and yet hidden from view of Thrushcross Hall, its grander, more prepossessing neighbour.

4) Castle Dracula. Dracula, by Mary Shelley. The iconic setting for the defining Gothic novel. Castle Dracula has been reproduced, re-imagined and depicted countless times in literature and film. I feel Dracula would not have been quite the story it was if it had been set in a terraced house in Bermondsey.

5)The Castle – Franz Kafka. The Castle represents the stultifying power of the banal. Its twisting corridors and endless waiting rooms describe the horror to be found in a human soul engulfed by bureaucracy. The Castle isn’t just a character in Kafka’s novel, it is arguably the only character.

6) Villa Villekulla – Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. What would Pippi be without her crazy house? Home to her monkey and horse and as unconventional as she is. The house is plonked right in the middle of a well-to-do, properly-mannered suburb, mixing it up. Didn’t we all want a neighbour like Pippi when we were little?

7) The Gingerbread House – Possibly the most well-known house in literature. The house is a trap, luring children whether greedy or desperate. It is a metaphor for those unscrupulous folk out there who offer temptations in order to take advantage, the literary equivalent of a Nigerian email scam. The house is effectively an extension of the witch herself. All I can say is, beware.

8) 221b Baker Street – Sherlock Holems by Arthur Conan-Doyle. What more can be said about this house (or apartment if we’re to be picky) that hasn’t been said before? The house is an essential component of Conan-Doyle’s stories. The quintessential bachelor’s apartment and reflecting the London of the 1880’s, the house is packed with a bewildering variety of Holmes’ oddities and accoutrements. The apartment is his mind palace, complete with his stored knowledge and experience.

9) Kirrin Cottage – The 6th member of the Famous Five, if that makes any sense. Kirrin Cottage is many things, not just a plot device to bring the children together for extended periods, it is sanctuary. It has hidden nooks and corners, nearby smuggler’s caves, a beach, a cove and an island as well as a secret passage heading to endless adventure.

10) Perijee and Me – Ross Montgomery’s sweet, funny and slightly bonkers novel features an unnamed cottage on a remote Scottish island. The isolation of the cottage reflects the emotional distance between the family members who live in it. Later, the house itself becomes an integral part of the story when it is reproduced on top of a gigantic alien sea-creature worshipped by a bobble-hat wearing cult…oh look it’s too hard to explain. Just read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

Twitter: @tomeaston


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