September 23, 2005



I'd like to see a short story in which all the activity/conversation takes place on porches...

Therese Eiben

Two Cheever stories: "Good-bye My Brother" and "The Day the Pig Fell in the Well."

And of course, Howard's End.


House of the Seven Gables.

And Little Women, Gone with the Wind, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.


Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), of course, and Great Expectations (Dickens). I'd also add Brideshead Revisted (Evelyn Waugh). And a book in which the house-as-a-character idea is discussed, The Witching Hour (Anne Rice), also has its own house-as-a-character.


House of Leaves.

The Ray Bradbury story "There Will Come Soft Rains".

I think you could make the argument that Wuthering Heights is a novel about two houses, but that might be reaching a bit...




I also immediately thought of Wuthering Heights, but in general terms the whole canon of Big House Literature is worth mentioning. In many of the works, notably in Elizabeth Bowen's books, the house is itself is an over-reaching symbol of the fading ascendancy. In Molly Keane's Good Behavour, the house seems to be as a big a player as the key characters, with all it's echoes of post-colonialism. Most recently, the unsettling 'school' in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was an instrinsic part of the story's eeriness.


Love - Toni Morrison


Dodie Smith - I Capture the Castle
Colm Toibin - The Blackwater Lightship
All the Green Knowe books by Lucy Boston.
Out of Africa - Isak Dinesen, also Coonardoo by Katharine Susannah Prichard. There would be a whole sub-genre of post-imperialist novels with houses as pretty important players. Not forgetting, of course, A House for Mr. Biswas.


Fall of the House of Usher

Andrew Scott

Don't forget Beloved, where the house is a character and essential to the novel's structure. Each of the three sections begins with a sentence capturing the house's mood.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."