The New House, Paperback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)




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The whole story of this book takes place on a single day in the 1930’s, as Rhoda, a single woman in her thirties, and her mother, Natalie, move out of their old family home, following the death of Tom, Natalie’s husband. The house is being torn down to make way for a new housing estate, and the two women are moving, with their maid, Ivy, to a smaller house on the other side of town, as they can no longer afford a big house.The theme of the book is change – social change and individual change, and how people feel about it and react to it. A wide range of thoughts and feelings are triggered by the move, not only for the two women, but for Rhoda’s brother and sister and their partners, and her maiden aunt as well. Different chapters reveal different characters’ feelings and thoughts as they go about their daily business – organizing the moving, going to work, having dinner, taking a child to a birthday party, buying a hat, etc. Some love change, some just accept it, and some actively hate it.Each character has some regrets – things they didn’t do, or did do and wish they hadn’t, and each thinks back to their youth, when the world seemed a simpler place. Their regrets relate mainly to marriages rejected or accepted, to chances not taken to move away from home, and to problems caused by not getting the right balance between selfishness and selflessness. Most of them feel somewhat constrained by the choices they have made.I felt I understood every one of these characters. Each is portrayed clearly, in their own thoughts and also by other characters’ thoughts and conversations about them. Each is capable of understanding his or her own flaws and others’ points of view, even though each believes their own ways to be best. This makes them much more interesting than if they had only thought and talked about themselves. Some are portrayed as very selfish – expecting relatives to cater to their every whim, or actively stopping others pursuing their own dreams. Others are extremely selfless, to the point where it embarrasses and upsets their relatives (and makes readers want to give them a really hard shake). The genius of the book is that even the most selfish characters have regrets and uncertainties, and they don’t always act entirely selfishly. This makes them seem very real.The introduction to the book makes clear that the characters are based on Cooper’s own family and experiences – she is Rhoda, and she didn’t make her own decision about whether to leave home until after this book was written, almost as if she was testing out her own ambivalent feelings. This makes me feel that although I really liked this book, I don’t want to read any of her others, as it could be that this was her one big story.