Friday, 24 September 2010

The Dream House - Rachel Hore

Kate Hutchinson and her husband Simon are Londoners, performing the balancing act of raising two young children in a cramped terraced house whilst holding down stressful full-time jobs. When everything starts to come apart at the seams they decide to uproot and move to the Suffolk coast. Sacrificing her career, her friends and her independence, Kate battles to make a new life for the family under her mother-in-law's roof - while they search in vain for the perfect home. Months later, with Simon still working all hours and the strains of living with his mother beginning to tell, Kate is questioning the wisdom of their move. Then one evening, out walking, she stumbles upon the house of her dreams, a beautiful place, full of memories - but tantalizingly out of her reach. It belongs to a frail old lady, Agnes, and the two women become close friends. As Kate unravels the dying woman's story she is amazed to discover how much it echoes her own. And as past and present intertwine, Kate is given the strength and inspiration to reforge her own life.

I'm a fan of historical novels and family-sagas so this book was right up my street. I was a bit cautious when starting this novel as it was a gift from my mum and I've sometimes found some of her favourite books to be a bit flat and predictable. Thankfully, this book exceeded my expectations as I really found myself connecting with the protagonist and was completely immersed in the story. 

Kate is eight years into her marriage to Simon when they decide to move to the country to rekindle their love and reconnect with their children. While Kate leaves her high-flying publishing job to become a stay-at-home mum, her husband commutes to London during the week. Eventually they begin to see less and less of each other, and although Kate and the kids are settled in Suffolk, making friends with their neighbours and creating a new life for themselves, Kate and Simon's marriage still seems to be on the rocks. I think that any woman would sympathise with Kate's situation, and it even made me - a nineteen year old, unmarried university student - realise how difficult "commuter marriages" are. Her life also struck a chord with me as I'd love to work in publishing, but know that ultimately, I'd want to stay at home when I have children. My long term boyfriend is also called Simon...spooky!

While exploring her new home area with her children, Kate discovers a beautiful old house - one that she thinks she's dreamed about - which belongs to a long lost relative. Whilst dealing with her new life and the difficulties with her husband, Kate also discovers a long-ago unsolved mystery surrounding her new-found Aunt Agnes that she is determined to solve. Here, the "narrative within a narrative" style of writing takes off as Kate discovers secrets about her Aunt Agnes, and her own family, in her old diaries. This style will be familiar to fans of Kate Morton's The House at Riverton or The Forgotten Garden, although this novel isn't so evenly split between the modern and past narratives. It was fascinating to dip into the 1920s and experience life through the eyes of Agnes. Although I didn't become so connected to her as I did to Kate, it was exciting to uncover the mysteries surrounding her and her family.

I'll admit that it did take me a while to get into the story, but in the end I really cared about the characters and wanted them to achieve happiness in their lives. This is a book with happy endings all round, so if you're looking for a serious novel with absolutely nothing predictable then this might not be for you. But if you like a splash of romance, a dabble of mystery and good dash of historical detail and family problems then I'd recommend this author. 9/10

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