What an unusual book this is. The setting, the people, the premise – everything about this book is just so other. And it made for an absorbing, challenging and fun read.
Howie and Emily are neighbours. They live side by side in isolated houses (in Wodicka’s words ‘...twins. Once identical, now fraternal.‘ – isn’t that great?!) on Route 29; a community of two. And yet they have hardly ever spoken. Howie has ‘the last face on earth’ – Wodicka’s brilliant way to describe his ever-mournful demeanor – an ex-wife and a daughter called Harriet who is a troubled artist. Emily has recently lost her beloved grandfather, Peter Phane, and is now back in his house, slowly losing her mind. Emily has started acting strangely at night and Howie has noticed.
Over the course of the book, we get inside both Howie and Emily’s heads as Wodicka masterfully plays with point of view, learning more about how they see themselves and each other. Eventually their paths overlap, drawn together by unfolding events and their shared ‘otherness’. At times this is terrifying – Emily has a problem with sleep that is among the scariest things I’ve ever heard about. I always read credits/acknowledgements and was fascinated to see that Wodicka himself shares Emily’s affliction, which may explain the intensity of his insight. Often the book is laugh-out-loud funny, largely thanks to Wodicka’s wry wit and pithy talent for description, particularly in the character of Howie. Howie’s face is full of ‘gaunt, arboreal lonesomeness‘. The ‘microwave in the kitchen would say it was 5.44 p.m., but the microwave had been insisting, silently, on a different time zone for years. You learn to be tolerant.‘
This is a book that is very big on detail. Character’s lives, homes and thoughts are meticulously described but somehow it isn’t overwhelming. Just vivid and immersive. It made me feel part of the tiny, strange community of Route 29 and ultimately, I feel richer for having been inside both Howie and Emily’s heads, for very different reasons.
- This Independent review makes an interesting point about the rarity of truly platonic relationships in life and literature.
- Get In Bed with Tod Wodicka, for a bit more insight into the autobiographical elements of The Household Spirit.