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The Paper House

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Longlisted for the ABIA's 2017 Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year

"There's something magical about The Paper House." The Sydney Morning Herald

And then I was pregnant, and we realised we had no space for a baby.

We looked at all kinds of houses: big, new ones with columns and render; little cottages with beaten weatherboard; a yellow brick monstrosity with a paved yard where there should have been grass. But we were drawn to the rolling water. And our heart stayed behind when we left.

Heather and Dave have found the perfect place to raise their first child. The house has character, but it's the garden that really makes it: red-faced impatiens, pockmarked gums, six upright pittosporums to keep the neighbours out. It's a jungle. A hiding place. A refuge.

And then, without warning, that life is over.

Heartbreaking, fearless, and ablaze with a coruscating beauty all its own, The Paper House tells the story of a woman sinking into the depths of grief, and the desperate efforts of her loved ones to bring her up for air. A sharp-eyed, bittersweet depiction of the love between parents and children, and the havoc that love can wreak.

260 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 31, 2016

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About the author

Anna Spargo-Ryan

8 books370 followers
Anna Spargo-Ryan is an award-winning Melbourne writer. Her new memoir, A KIND OF MAGIC, is about anxiety, learning to be a person, a bit of self-forgiveness, love, death-defying panic and generally trying to have a happy life.

Her novels are THE GULF and THE PAPER HOUSE. She is the Nonfiction Editor at Island Magazine.

Anna won the 2016 Horne Prize for her essay "The Suicide Gene". You can find her other work in Best Australian Essays, Meanjin, The Guardian, The Big Issue, and many other places.

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5 stars
184 (31%)
4 stars
215 (36%)
3 stars
140 (23%)
2 stars
39 (6%)
1 star
11 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 107 reviews
Profile Image for Andrea.
800 reviews30 followers
June 2, 2017
Heather and Dave are young, married and in love. After moving around a bit with Dave's job as a relief teacher, they are ready to start a family and escape to the country. It's all going well for them - until it isn't.

This is the debut novel for Anna Spargo-Ryan, who writes beautifully and powerfully about mental illness. It's a subject I wish I understood better, because if I did, it might have occurred to me a lot sooner to start questioning what in the story was real and what wasn't. Don't get me wrong, the obvious things - like what was happening at the bottom of the garden - were obvious, but towards the end it dawned on me that there was probably a lot more that I should have picked up on.

Spargo-Ryan is a clever writer and I will make a point of looking out for her next book.
Profile Image for D.M. Cameron.
Author 1 book28 followers
August 13, 2016
Wow this woman can write! Her proze is gobsmackingly beautiful. I wanted to fall into her writing forever. The only thing I craved was more of a plot line. Can't wait to see what she writes next. I am a definite fan.
Profile Image for Helen King.
245 reviews27 followers
June 18, 2016
I started reading this novel with some trepidation, because I've read Anna's short stories and articles before. I'd built some expectations and what if they weren't met? So I tried staying a bit detached but couldn't for long - this story drew me in. From the early stages, where life for Heather and Dave was rolling out as it should, to the devastation of a life lost, and the way everyone tried to make sense, to work out how to be within this new world - the afterwards - the storyline was gripping. Then the way Anna structured her story, the way she coloured it with the beauty of the everyday things, the way she captured the interactions between the main characters (both verbally and in their actions - the things they did and didn't do), and the way she let it all unfold naturally, was just so - right. All the characters were whole beings, with flaws and with oddities, and with lovely attributes. Real people. It really is one of those rare books which is true to life, except expressed in a way most of us would struggle to capture in words. The way that Anna moved between Heather's childhood and the current day, to show how the past is relevant, was very sensitively done, and not overworked. Sometimes you need to read a book like this to help you make sense of what you have experienced - whether the same circumstance, or something similar. And this is one of those wonderful books which manages to do this so very well. Plus - it is set in one of my most favourite places in the world, around the Mornington Peninsula and surrounds. Just to top it off.

Normally I include extracts in my summaries (which are mostly for me, to embed books in my mind), but I don't know where to start here, because there are just too many beautiful, painful, insightful and funny elements to quote (sometimes more than one aspect at once). I wouldn't know where to start. I guess anyone reading this review will just have to read it for themselves, and pick out their own favourites. Because there are just so many.
Profile Image for Kirsty Dummin.
133 reviews4 followers
October 23, 2016
I think that mental health is often quite a taboo subject, particularly to fictionalise. Anna Spargo-Ryan does it so well in The Paper House. The story is sensitive without being overtly emotional and the plot is clever, yet realistic. There are many subtleties entwined throughout the book that allow even deeper thought, which I particularly enjoyed. However, my favourite thing about this book is the pace in which the prose is presented. If this book were a house it would be clean and crisp and minimalist, with accents of exquisite beauty.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
684 reviews602 followers
December 13, 2016
An astonishing debut out of Australia. When a young woman's first pregnancy ends in miscarriage, it triggers childhood memories of the figurative and then all-too-literal absence of her mentally ill mother. Despite the imperfect support of loved ones, the protagonist goes to some very dark places. Moving, with both light-hearted and heavy moments, it's ultimately a hopeful tale. The occasionally uneven prose is liberally dotted with, to paraphrase Bohumil Hrabal, sentences so luscious I wanted to pop them in my mouth and suck on them.
Profile Image for Nathan Woolford.
10 reviews
July 11, 2016
Occasionally I read a book that reaches deep inside and turns me inside out. A truly wonderful, wondrous, real, unreal, touching and thoughtful story. I can't recommended it any more highly.
Profile Image for Cassie Robinson.
58 reviews3 followers
July 3, 2016
I think this is a beautifully written book and a wonderful debut, but it didn't really have an affect on me as much as it seems to have had with others. I felt removed from the characters the whole time, perhaps because Heather herself is in such an isolated state of mind. I could imagine how painful it would be to be in their situation, but I was never made to really feel anything until the end. To me, that was the realest moment in the book and I think if there were more real moments mixed into the magical parts of the story, the overall effect would have grabbed me more.
Profile Image for Giselle A Nguyen.
182 reviews65 followers
June 23, 2016
I wish I could wrap myself in the poetry of this book. It is exquisitely written - so many sentences I could live in - and the story is desperately sad, but also somehow hopeful. A really beautiful read.
Profile Image for Jodi.
Author 4 books60 followers
June 8, 2016
Every now and then, a very special book comes along. A book that stands out from the crowd with a unique voice, heart-filled story and stunningly beautiful prose. The Paper House is one of those books.

Anna tells a story that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, with a gentle tenderness that is evident in every word on the page. Dealing with issues such as mental illness, childloss and the intricacies of family isn't an easy task, yet Anna does so with a delicate, empathetic hand allowing the reader to feel along with the characters every step of the way. What could well have been a tragic, depressing tale, is told so poetically, so touchingly that you will be compelled to turn the page and imagine yourself sitting, breathing with Heather and Dave. And by book's end, you will be left with a lingering memory of the characters and a hope for their future.

A stand out novel, and one that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Profile Image for Jessica Currie.
63 reviews12 followers
June 24, 2016
I started reading this at lunchtime yesterday. I was 2/3 through this morning at breakfast I said to my partner "gosh Anna's book is good. Seriously good. Everyone on Twitter keeps saying they cried. I wonder if I haven't cried because I don't have that desire to have a family that other women do? I've haven't grieved like the main character, Heather, but it feels like she's exactly describing my own experiences of anxiety, depression and losing touch with reality. There isn't a man living in our garden, is there?". And just now (lunchtime today) I have finished the Paper House and my face is wet. There's some kind of leaking issue with my eye holes and my nose holes.

Jesus H Christ, Anna Spargo-Ryan! It's a bloody ripper. I bet your Dad is happy other people can now read/see/experience the source of his great pride.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sunili.
18 reviews176 followers
July 4, 2016
Heather has suffered an unspeakable and utterly devastating loss, and the cadendece and rhythm of Anna's words makes you FEEL everything that is happening in her heart and her soul. It honestly hurt to read this book. My chest is tightening up even as I think about it to write this.... And I know am incredibly privileged to have experienced that. Highly recommended but would note it is not suitable if you just want a light little casual read.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
483 reviews8 followers
June 6, 2016
A beautiful, poetic novel of grief and family.

The writing is spirited and evocative. I was in that garden with Heather, her pain was palpable. There was so much insight and understanding here, it was heartbreaking yet hopeful.

I adored this, an incredible debut. I can't wait to read whatever Anna writes next.
1 review2 followers
June 10, 2016
Anna's writing makes my heart hurt.
Do not read while wearing mascara.
Profile Image for Megan Maurice.
Author 2 books5 followers
September 29, 2016
A devastatingly beautiful read with vivid imagery and relatable characters, this was an absolute joy to read. Can't wait for more from Anna Spargo-Ryan.
Profile Image for Tanya.
606 reviews11 followers
October 19, 2016
Wow - if that is her debut I look forward to her next novel.

This story was so well written and oh so sad.
Profile Image for Gyan Yankovich.
11 reviews12 followers
January 21, 2017
The Paper House is written with the same beauty as The Bell Jar. This book took me longer to read than expected because every single sentence deserves a pause of appreciation.
Profile Image for Nic.
663 reviews15 followers
October 7, 2016
STANDING OVATION! For the author, for her brilliant writing, for her original, creative metaphors. BRILLIANT. My eyes welled up by page 8 and by page 10 I was crying. The story - as sad it is, with characters trying to manage loss, depression, and mental illness - is one of hope. I was captivated at every page turn through to the end, where I read with tears streaming from my eyes and nose. The author's 'OTHER THINGS OF NOTE' is a lovely afterword that gives further closure to the story.

This quote stood out for me as I came across it. It turned out to be very central to the story.

'I pulled my sketchbook from its hiding place beneath my chair, touched the corners where they vibrated. I drew a little man in a little house. I drew a fractured stringybark, turned it inside out to make a canoe on a river. I found a mouse inside the canoe, plucked him out and left him on the shore.' (p.48)

Not since Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine have I been moved by such beautiful writing.

Now...on a not so good note. This is a debut novel so I believe it would have gone through a stringent editing process. However there is a major error on Page 73 that has been overlooked.

'"Tell you what," she said, grinding her butt into the bitumen.'

The person speaking is sitting behind the wheel of a car that is still running so it's impossible for her to grind her cigarette butt into the bitumen. Another 7 lines of dialogue, then:

'The ute pulled out. She flicked her lit cigarette to the bitumen.'

No time to light another cigarette. No mention of lighting another cigarette. Big error in my opinion, that SHOULD have been picked up during editing process. Sloppy! However it didn't detract from my love of this book. I feel a book rut coming on. How to top this? :(
Profile Image for Zoe.
394 reviews7 followers
March 9, 2017
I teared up a little on the final page. Beautifully written book with an elegant and simple storyline that drifts between present, past and fantasy. As a Melbournian I also appreciated the local flavour.

While it was beautiful, I'm not sure I would read it again. I found the portrayal of the men/women, carer/cared-for dynamics a little bit off and odd. All of the main female characters in this book (Heather, Fleur, their mum and Sylvia) are all cared for as a focus of the novel (i.e. we only interact with these women when they require care), and men are their primary carers, either as sons, husbands, fathers or lovers. I found this divide between what the men in the book were doing and what the women were doing to be really harsh and confronting, and I don't think it reflected that well on the ability of these women to have agency or be complex people. Normally in a book, I am fine with a few characters being the same, but here it seemed overwhelming without a counterpoint/contrasting character or two.

It is especially hard to stomach because the archetypal 'woman' presented here is just lots of women being burdens on their families, who moan about how awful the women are for being ill. If we were able to see some equal sharing of care tasks between partners, or some more equal distribution of care needs between the genders, I think it would have been a more complex narrative about the nature of illness and caregiving. As it was, I felt it was a bit one note.
Profile Image for Sarah Van Der Wal.
1 review3 followers
June 17, 2016
This book is heart wrenching, gut twisting, sob inducing brilliance. The prose is exquisite, and the story amazing, but most importantly, the characters are delicately built but utterly complete.
It would have been so easy to add one, or a hundred cliches in this book - there are none.

Read this. Then make everyone you know read it.
Profile Image for Michael Livingston.
795 reviews252 followers
June 27, 2016
A heartbreaking story of grief, and the way things reverbrate across generations. Spargo-Ryan writes beautifully, with surprising metaphors and a knack for drawing whole characters with just a few well chosen scenes.
Profile Image for Ellen.
982 reviews36 followers
July 22, 2017
This is a superbly written debut, swollen with rich prose and gentle sentiment. The steady tide of tragedy was delicately handled, but for me this book was too slow to truly sweep me away.
Profile Image for John James.
33 reviews98 followers
June 19, 2016
I'm a notoriously slow reader. It usually takes me a few weeks to read a book, but I read Anna Spargo-Ryan's debut novel, The Paper House, in 7days; that's speed-reading for me.

You would think a book that tells the story of a woman falling into a spiral of anxiety, depression, and mental illness after her daughter is still-born would be a dark, bleak, impossible read, but The Paper House is almost the opposite. The subject matter is dark, but Anna's use of language is remarkable and playful, the characters are real and engaging, and the story is full of wonder, humour, and pathos.

I really can't say more than that, except to say that it's a must-read. Believe the hype. It really is that good!

Profile Image for Katie.
2 reviews1 follower
July 5, 2016
The Paper House is a beautiful, tender book. Its heart beats with poetry. Anna Spargo-Ryan writes with depth, empathy, and insight - taking tiny moments and distilling them, allowing the reader to sit and feel the impact of what's happening. The whole time I was reading I felt that I was in a dream, floating along with the words, colours whirling and unfolding around me. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks as I think the child's voice is incredibly strong, balanced with humour and pain. A wonderful read.
Profile Image for Sue.
159 reviews
October 29, 2016
I hadn’t heard of Anna Spargo-Ryan’s novel, The paper-house, when it was sent to me for review, which is not surprising given it’s a debut novel. However, I loved the cover – designed by one of Australia’s top book designers, Sandy Cull – and so was more than willing to give it a go. It traverses some familiar ground, grief and loss, and mental illness, but it did so differently enough to keep me well engaged. For my full review, please see https://whisperinggums.com/2016/10/21...
Profile Image for Terri.
56 reviews10 followers
July 1, 2016
It's been a few months since I've breezed through a book the way I did The Paper House, and gosh it's a great feeling. I felt completely swept up by this story, which is, to be frank, a bone-achingly sad one, but which Anna Spargo-Ryan paints with the most beautiful, fluid prose such that it is a true joy to read.
Profile Image for Panos Dionysopoulos.
Author 3 books14 followers
June 24, 2016
Beautifully written and filled with genuine and real characters, this book made me reflect a lot of my own struggles with depression and those of the people close to me. It's a well-written journey that manages to make you smile as it pulls you down with the main character. Very highly recommended.
Profile Image for Johanna.
Author 5 books
July 2, 2016
This has to be one of the best books I've read for a long time. Both heartbreaking and beautiful at once and so well written you can't help but be swallowed up into the rhythmic tidal plot.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 107 reviews

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