My last house move, nearly 15 years ago, was pretty stressful but I remember how reassured I felt when friends from where we’d previously lived came to visit and could see the fit between the new place and me. Although the houses were radically different in style and layout, both were mirroring some of my character. When Hildy Good, the estate-agent narrator of The Good House by Ann Leary, says that she only has to walk through a house once to understand the psyche of its occupants, she may be exaggerating, but not very much.
Moving house can have different meanings at different points of the lifespan: a young adult might need to flee the parental home to unleash their creativity; for an older person, moving might present risks to their health. In my short story, Spring Cleaning, a daughter and granddaughter’s attempts to give an older woman’s home makeover while she’s in hospital proves to be disturbing enough. In Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing, Maud is confused and disorientated when she gives up her home, despite her daughter’s attempts to smooth the way.
In The Aftermath, Herr Lubert and his daughter in post-war Hamburg also witness their spacious home being commandeered by strangers. But living alongside a British family, their conquerors and former enemies, is much more comfortable than being evicted to a displaced persons’ camp. Rachael, married to a man tasked with overseeing the city’s rehabilitation, is initially repelled by their upstairs neighbours, but gradually comes to realise that the Germans are people too.
The Luberts are certainly more fortunate than Aletta Venter and her family in Dave Boling’s novel, The Undesirables. When their South African farm is destroyed by the British, they are transported to a tented concentration camp rife with hunger and disease, where getting on with their neighbours is the least of their problems.
Yet I didn’t become as obsessed with my feline visitors as the young couple in Takashi Hiraide’s novel, The Guest Cat. Childless workaholics, although fond of each other they don’t seem to be very intimate until they are adopted by a beautiful stray cat. Chibi becomes a shared project, the receptacle for the passion and playfulness that has few other outlets, anticipating her visits and courting her with tempting food. Perhaps it is because their home is rented, and their tenure provisional, that they feel so honoured by the arrival of their feline guest. When her visits stop abruptly and they are required to move out of their home, both are overwhelmed by grief. This novel wasn’t one for me, I’m afraid, but pet lovers might appreciate it as the feline antidote to Waiting for Doggo.
Thanks again to the publishers for review copies of the novels mentioned in this post. The Guest Cat is published by Picador and translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland.
Have you experienced any traumatic house moves and have you read any other novels that explore this?