Tag Archives: Ann Leary

The Children by Ann Leary: Happy families

Cover imageI liked the sound of Ann Leary’s new novel even before I remembered how much I’d enjoyed The Good House. Looking back at my review of that I see that I was after something ‘absorbing but relatively unchallenging’ thanks to the befuddlement of a cold. This time I was engaged in that traditional British summer activity – trying to cope with a sudden heatwave. On both occasions Leary’s books distracted me from my discomfort beautifully. The Children is set in similar New England territory to her previous novel but this one has much more of an edge of suspense to it.

Charlotte and her mother, Joan, live in Lakeside Cottage, owned by Joan’s late husband and left to her for her lifetime, or so she thinks. Charlotte’s in her late twenties and rarely leaves the property, spending much of her time on her blog with her fictitious family, spinning stories about her son’s disability and her lovely but hopeless husband and earning a decent living from it. She’s engaged in what she likes to think of as a casual relationship with Everett, the estate’s caretaker but it’s a little more serious than that. Her beloved stepbrother Spin has brought his fiancée to meet his stepfamily, hoping to stay for the summer. Laurel is beautiful, talented and has a lucrative writing contract under her belt but seems a little too interested in how much the house is worth. Much to her surprise, Charlotte finds herself warming to Laurel, enjoying the unaccustomed attention and the promise of friendship. Even more astonishing, Laurel manages to win Joan over who suggests that the lakeside estate would make the perfect place for the couple to marry. As the summer wears on niggling questions begin to surface about Laurel who seems to know more about her new family than you might expect.

I’ve mentioned several times recently that I’m not one for beach reads, the kind of book you see in piles at airport bookshops aimed at readers who need to get themselves through the miseries of a long flight or want to forget the world  while sipping a cool drink next to the pool. Despite that, I seem to have worked my way through a couple this summer and you might say The Children is one of them. Leary unfolds this taut little novel from Charlotte’s perspective as she looks back over the events of the summer. She has a sharp eye for characterisation – Joan’s bragging routine and insouciant disregard for what anyone else might be feeling but herself is particularly convincing and handled with humour. The virtual world is neatly satirised through Charlotte’s dodgy blogging activities and the plot is cleverly put together, crucial pieces of the puzzle quietly dropped into place often throwing up yet more questions. Altogether a very satisfying read. I raced through this one and enjoyed it very much.

The Good House: Secrets and lies

Cover imageWith 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 look out 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 every one knows every one 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.