This was a book I had heard nothing about. A friend had lent it to me though she hadn’t read it yet. It’s the kind of book that you might find on a discount table out the front of a book store, but not because it was a terrible book or poorly written just because it’s not that memorable.
The author, Laura Shaine Cunningham, tells her own story of her search for ‘a place’ after spending her early life without ever having a home of her own. The idea of a solid house with a garden (and in particular in the country despite having grown up in New York) starts very early and never leaves her. She is drawn to the idea of what life would be like if she lived in a house and is a driving force in her life. Her childhood is spent first with her single mother living in tiny apartments with hordes of relatives (I can’t remember if she explained the absence of the father or not) and then after the death of her mother, with two eccentric, bachelor uncles. Very little detail is given about this time in her life which I found strange – though I have just discovered she has written another book dedicated just to her childhood called Sleeping Arrangements.
As an adult she begins in earnest her hunt for the perfect country home. Along the way she lives in some very odd places and takes a decade before she finds the place she feels is hers. It’s another slightly odd arrangement, being a house on the estate of another, larger house and it has quite a history. She and her (barely mentioned) husband start collecting a menagerie of animals including chickens, goats, and geese. All troublesome! She develops wonderful relationships with the caretaker of the estate and with the dairy farming family whose land backs onto to hers. And to a lesser extent the estate owners themselves.
It is in finding this house that Cunningham roots herself and her life, find community and peace of mind and it is here that she decides the time has come to think about a family of her own. Like the search for the house this journey is not an easy one and does not come about in the ‘normal’ way. But in the end it is exactly as it should be. The conclusion to the story is somewhat bittersweet and could leave the reader a little disillusioned by modern life as it did me. The desire to just have things remain as they are, to have time stand still is how I felt at finishing the book.
For me this was a slightly odd book, the first half was lacking in detail (perhaps because it had been included in her other book) and I didn’t know where she was heading with her story because of this. The second half I enjoyed much more, it had more direction and purpose. I also found Cunningham quite reluctant to share some part of her story (ie her marriage and even her work) which made it difficult to relate to some aspects. It’s like she wanted to tell the story of the house and her in it, but keep the rest to herself which didn’t really work. There were times where I was thinking ‘what’s happened to her husband, is he still on the scene or not?’ And while I understand the need to keep some things private, I question why you would write a book about yourself at all if that is the case.
Overall a light, easy, enjoyable read but not completely satisfying.