Felicity's Reviews > The House at Midnight

The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse
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Jul 11, 2011

really liked it
Read from February 14 to April 21, 2012 , read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** I have literally just finished this book. It's almost midnight and I can't sleep. Not until I have put into words how this book made me feel. I suppose the best way to describe it is unnerving. To the point where I'll probably have to sleep with the fairy lights on tonight, especially seeing as how I don't have a lovely Greg to pull me into his arms.

I read 'The Bed I Made' (Lucie's second novel) two summers ago and the atmosphere was the same. Claustrophobic. I can honestly say I felt like I was 'in' that book. I often had to lay it to one side and draw a few shaky breaths to remind myself it was only a story. This author has a gift for drawing you in and selling you the very dramatic endings by embedding them in tangible places, atmospheric settings, characters of flesh and blood and raw emotions. And it's all done so subtly.

Just to warn you now, this review contains NUMEROUS SPOILERS. I cannot convey how this book made me feel without drawing upon specific scenes and characters.

To begin with; The House.
What made this story draw me in very quickly was the setting. A manor house of ridiculous proportions, left in the hands of a bunch of friends, in the Oxfordshire countryside. I spent New Year's at such a house, in Oxfordshire, just this last year - roaring open fires, solid oak doors, a well stocked wine cellar, copious amounts of food, laughter, music, tipsy-feeling... I was in awe. Never in my life had I seen such a big house that wasn't on the National Trust property list. So I very quickly fell for the majesty of the place but I also understood the oppression: the feeling of not wanting to be alone for too long. It has a feeling of endless possibilities - you can understand why the characters are so eager to escape London and it's hustle and bustle and become cushioned in this luxurious existence every weekend whereby the world ceases to exist.

The Places: A relative lives on Fulham High Street and I walked along the Putney bridge and along the Thames just the other week... Lucie's moved away from the cliché of everyone who lives in London has a penthouse, a fabulous career and shops on Oxford Street. Putney is an original and tangible setting that fits Jo's character and her sense of wanting to be part of something bigger (i.e. career) but never really trying to connect with London on a larger scale. Littering Jo's memories of times at university with cosy little Oxford cafes and libraries adds that rose-tinted glow that we all ascribed to a time when we want to believe everything had been perfect because the present is so wrong.

The Characters: I've met every single one of these people. In some incarnation or other. This is that circle of friends you have that are too perfect. Where it is inevitable everything will come crashing down sooner or later. I'm not really like Johanna but I can understand her. She's probably too patient and too forgiving but I've been there too and it's not until you look back that you realise you've been taken for a ride. Her deep feelings for Lucas are real - she is so confused as to who he is to her. She wants a claim upon him; to be tied to him forever in some way so she tries to make a relationship work. Yes, sometimes I became impatient with her but her flaws make her likeable. And yet, even though the narrative is from her viewpoint, this doesn't stop you questioning her emotions and rationale sometimes - wondering if she's misread something and wishing you could see the other person's expression for yourself to see if you concur with her conclusions.

Lucas is that person that we all know who could achieve great things but lacks commitment and motivation. His head's in the clouds most of the time and when he can't sustain that he turns instead to the bottle. At the beginning, sympathizing with him is easy - he's alone in the world except for his friends - and his generosity and kindness are endearing. And yet, as he begins to spiral out of control, you buy into it. There are cracks in his character, even in his outwardly appearance, that hint at it.

Danny is uncomfortable but, again, I can see him in people I've known. The arrogance and magnetism that seem to invite people to him rather than send them away as it should. The kind who thinks the world owes him something but he need do nothing in return. It is maddening to see this from Jo's perspective and yet he is able to charm his way into anyone's world.

Michael and Martha, although much smaller roles, are still well rounded characters. Both strong but with a softness that tells me I'd like both of them if I met them, they are the glue of the group. Without them the group would never have worked. Rachael is probably the least developed but then I think that's intentional as we kind of need to not care too much about her otherwise it'd be hard to accept Jo and Greg together. Diane could easily have been a walking cliche - the rebound girl who flounces around the house and has the world's eyes upon her. Yet, she is so likeable in a relatively short space of time. She brings a calmness to the page that none of the other characters can - a soothing presence that even affects the reader. Therefore, when she meets Jo and Greg later after Lucas has threatened her, it is easy to feel huge empathy for her and not feel as though she is abandoning Lucas.

Ah, Greg. Greg is the perfect man. And yet, he never makes you feel like he's unrealistic or leave you feeling nauseous. I can't work out why - one thought is that he cares about everyone and doesn't just direct all this love towards Jo. Like when he places his hand on top of Diane's or helps carry Lucas - these physical signs of friendship are often underwritten in male characters yet they speak volumes.

The chemistry between him and Jo is well written and much needed after the almost brother-sister feeling one gets from Lucas and Jo's relationship. Diane's and Lucas' relationship also brings some relief from the tension as Diane almost 'mothers' him and makes it feel as though Jo can pull back and not be as involved. I especially love how Greg was a wallflower for a fair bit of the beginning of the book - he was there and referred to but it wasn't 'in-your-face-obvious' that he and Jo would end up together from the start.

There are, however, some parts I didn't like as much. The scene with Justin's return felt rushed - as though atmosphere was unimportant and it was only about getting the story out and then getting rid of that character again once he'd done his job. I think this is what made it harder to accept the whole Phillip-leaving-the-guy-to-die bit.

I also don't understand why Greg didn't leave a message on Jo's phone in the final chapters when Lucas calls for him to come to the house...?

Also, I did find the ending a bit unsatisfactory. Obviously I wanted Greg to live and for him and Jo to stay together. Thinking about how he much have been shot fairly early in the day 0 about 11am to 1pm and also considering the fact that the nature of the injury implies an artery may have been involved AND you're heart is likely to arrest after losing more then 2 litres of blood, I can't quite see how he was still alive when Jo arrived. It takes a LOT of blood to leave a carpet sodden like that.

But on the whole I really enjoyed this book and will certainly be a) recommending it and her first novel to friends and b) looking forward to another book from her if possible!
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04/11/2012 page 46
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Felicity I loved 'The Bed I Made' by the same author so am hopeful this will live up to my high expectations! So far it's very good - the characters are so visceral and I really have no idea where it's headed... :)


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