The Good House by Ann Leary: Secrets and lies

Cover image With its puff from J. Courtney Sullivan, Ann Leary’s The Good House looked a promising choice for my cold-befuddled brain  – absorbing but relatively unchallenging. Set in the kind of small New England seaside town where families have lived for so long that there are coves named after them, it’s narrated by Hildy Good, successful realtor and descendent of a Salem witch.

Hildy knows everyone in Wendover – what the inside of their houses look like, what they’re worth, what they get up to – and they know she likes a drink. Always on the lookout for property to sell, she’s eyeing up the house she sold to Rebecca McAllister and her husband Brian. Rebecca seems unhappy, in need of a friend and Hildy steps into the breach becoming Rebecca’s confidante, learning secrets best kept to herself. Hildy has her own problems – she bought her house at the height of the boom and is heavily mortgaged, she’s divorced and lonely, and her listings have taken a hit since her daughters staged an intervention, packing her off to rehab. Hildy is determined that’s not going to happen again and anyway, she’s not an alcoholic.

Leary’s novel is as much about Hildy and her refusal to accept her alcoholism as it is about the events that play out in Wendover, although there is plenty of drama to unfold. What seems at first to be a wryly humorous take on life is gradually revealed as self-deception, blustering denial and in one particularly memorable scene, nightmarish paranoia, made all the more vivid for being told in Hildy’s own voice. Leary effectively summons up the claustrophobia of living in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and has done for generations. She has spoken openly about her own alcoholism, although I failed to spot this in the press release – that’s befuddlement for you – and so it came as a shock to me when I read the short interview at the end of the book, leaving me filled with respect and admiration. It’s a brave book, and with Michael Cunningham, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro on the case, I’m sure it will make a great film.

4 thoughts on “The Good House by Ann Leary: Secrets and lies”

  1. I enjoyed this book and will be featuring it in my blog series on fictional therapists in two or three weeks time.
    I didn’t know it was on the way to being made into a film and imagine it would work really well.
    Like you, I was surprised to read at the end of the book that Ann Leary had her own problems with alcohol; surprised because it’s challenging for a writer to portray one’s personal issues with sufficient distance. I think she does this really well and Hildy is the most endearing alcoholic narrator it’s ever been my pleasure to meet.

    1. I thought she was remarkably generous in sharing her experience. I was pleased to see Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep on one of your fictional therapist posts, much under-rated. I remember the hilarious (and ultimately tragic) misunderstanding of footnotes very well. Have you read Sylvia Brownrigg’s The Delivery Room? Well worth seeking out if you haven’t.

  2. Thanks for your recommendation. I vaguely remember that book from when it first came out but haven’t read it. It’s now on order – exactly right for my blog series.

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