Seeing Other People, by Mike Gayle

Seeing-Other-People-jacketAfter a very dry reading year, I started 2015 with an author who has never failed me in the past: Mike Gayle. And true to form, I found Seeing Other People very hard to put down and I read it over one weekend.

It was the kind of book I needed to read, to rid myself of any idea that my interest in reading was dying, after managing to finish only 25 books last year, the lowest since I started keeping a tally at the end of 2009.

Joe Clarke is a man very much in love with his wife and children so the last thing he’d want to do is jeopardise his marriage. So why does he wake to find himself in bed with the new office intern with no memory of how he got there? And why does his ex-girlfriend keep turning up – considering he’d very recently attended her funeral? What affect will all of this have on his marriage?

The House That Was Eureka by Nadia Wheatley

img-Z03150520-0001I have a vague recollection (probably faulty) that Nadia Wheatley gave a lunch time talk when I was at university. It would have been sometime between 1990 and 1993. Or maybe it never happened at all.

At that time, all I would have known of her work was My Place, a book following the various inhabitants of the same house over several decades. Recently I watched, and enjoyed, the ABC TV series inspired by the book.

The House That Was Eureka, preceded My Place, but has the similarity of covering two periods in the history of a Newtown terrace house; periods that intersect, overlap and blend in the dreams and experiences of characters from those two periods.

During the Great Depression, as unemployment escalated and rent payments fell into arrears, landlords started evicting tenants who failed to pay up. As resistance to the evictions escalated, the police were increasingly brought in to deal with those refusing to leave. In response tenants were joined by other protestors, barricading themselves into their homes with barbed wire, boarded up windows and doors and tonnes of sandbags. The evictions therefore grew increasingly violent with serious casualties on both sides. This little known historical scenario forms the heart of this novel.

203 Liberty Street is the new home of 16 year old Evie and her family. From the day she moves in, Evie starts to experience strange dreams and noises that seem to be associated with events 50 years earlier when the house was the site of an enforced eviction. Is history repeating or have two time periods merged bringing confusion of identity between the residents of 1931 and those of 1981? Why are the “present day” occupants of Liberty Street moved by the events of the past? To what extent do those past events intrude into their lives and are there links deeper than a common address? And to what extent can the wrongs of the past be turned around?

For some reason this book brings to mind Alan Garner’s The Owl Service and Red Shift, both of which involve the intersection of time periods and characters from the “present” reliving historical events, or at least experiencing the emotions of those who experienced the original events. Garner’s books have a clear mythical even mystical quality, but Wheatley’s novel, while utilising a degree of mystery and at times appearing like a ghost story, is set on a historical foundation, giving insight into the real hardships faced by thousands, caused by a situation far outside of their control.

Here is a news report of the kind of event that inspired the book.

Dolly by Susan Hill

DollyDolly is the latest addition to my Susan Hill collection, following  The Small Hand and The Woman in Black. These three books are in special hard cover editions, small books measuring only 111 x 178 mm and each can be read easily in two or three hours.

I bought the earlier two books direct from the author, autographed. That option is still available for British and European readers but unfortunately due to increased mailing costs Hill no longer sells direct to other parts of the world.

All of the above mentioned books are ghost stories following the Victorian tradition and are more creepy and unsettling  than horrific. They rely on building up a feeling of unease rather than sudden shock.

The events in Dolly have their origin during Edward’s childhood when he spends time at an Aunt’s house and is joined by Leonora a spoiled cousin. Leonora’s temperament triggers events and experiences that have a disturbing cost for both of them in the future.

The pivotal section of the book is a part that looks back to Edward’s childhood encounter with Leonora at his Aunt’s house, but a few times I felt the point of view of the child Edward was expressed with concepts and vocabulary that were too mature for an eight year old boy. I suppose it could be explained by the fact that the events were recounted in flashback by the adult Edward – but I’m not convinced by my own argument.

However, as events progressed and returned to Edward’s present day, I was able to overlook that minor quibble and could enjoy the rest of the story.

Unlike other books I’ve read recently that have addressed “issues” and looked at the consequences of human actions – Dolly seems to raise no answerable questions. Its events come across as being inevitable and characters (particularly Edward) seem to be the victim of unavoidable fate, so there’s no suggestion that he could have changed the outcome if only he’d done something differently.

Then again, there may be something beyond that impression of fatalism. Maybe the book shows that individuals aren’t the only ones to reap consequences for their own actions – that whatever we do also has its effect on those around us, whether they “deserve” it or not. And  maybe there are other forces at play that don’t fit with a strict materialist view of the “natural” world.

woman in blacksmall hand