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A House for Alice: From the Women’s Prize shortlisted author of Ordinary People

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It's a shame as I think the opening mischaracterises the general thrust of the novel and might be off-putting to some readers. I put the book down for several days on three separate occasions, reading some interesting novels in between, and frankly, would have abandoned it entirely were it not to be discussed in our book group. It is rare for me to be so deeply moved by a book, a book that puts feelings into words, feelings which I’ve never been able to clearly express myself.

Evans is a former dancer, and her journalism, criticism and essays appear in among others Time Magazine, Vogue, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Review of Books and Harper’s Bazaar. The book opens, alongside the Grenfell Tower fire, with another fatal fire on the same evening – Cornelius, living on his own and increasingly suffering from dementia, falls asleep and his lit cigarette causes his death.

Turns out this is due to A House for Alice being a sequel to Evans's debut, fact that is not clear at all. Some of the characters' dilemmas were such that I, the reader, found myself prompting them from off-stage. I really appreciated seeing an in-depth portrait of a family that is simultaneously unraveling at the seams and continually there for each other; they are constantly at each other’s throats but they’re never far from each other. She was discovering, in these mounting waves and surges, that the more time passes the more profound the grief, because you are looking backwards at where the beloved stopped, while the chasm between there and where you go on, every day, is widening, so full in its emptiness. Her three daughters are divided on whether she stays or goes, and tasked with realising her dream of a house in Nigeria, conflict stirs and old wounds rise to the surface.

I’ve been thinking about this, how other people can carry parts of you through the world and you only get to live those parts of yourself when you’re with those people. Another aspect of the book that I wasn't too sure whether I felt okay about it or not was the references to Grenfell. The 103 third parties who use cookies on this service do so for their purposes of displaying and measuring personalized ads, generating audience insights, and developing and improving products. In a standalone title they’d feel like a plot strand too many, and even in a follow-up they stretch the focus overly.It serves as a reminder that despite progress, there is still much work to be done in dismantling systemic inequalities. Instead, it settles into something more nebulous – a shifting mosaic of intergenerational becoming and belonging that affords glimpses of poetry slams, Croydon nightclubs and the afterlife.

And my enjoyment was not assisted by what I often felt to be over-writing (particularly of some rather odd sex scenes) and by rather too many rather extraneous scenes (a trip to Portugal, a camping trip to Sussex, a starring role in a Panto) and additional characters. I’m not British but I did wonder at this inclusion of a very traumatizing event in such recent history. I liked the political dilemmas the characters faced as Blacks in London – as immigrants, as parents of Black boys, as caregivers to a cantankerous and abusive father, as parents to children with mental health and criminal justice issues, etc. I also found the short segment on Cornelius’ afterlife experience a tad disjointed with the overall narrative. His wife, the eponymous Alice, immigrated to Britain decades earlier from Nigeria when they married.Her children are divided on whether she stays or goes, and in the wake of their father's death, the imagined stability of the family begins to fray. Melissa just wants to keep the peace between family members while she continues to put the pieces of her life back together following her marriage breakdown. I've not read any of the authors other work and I had absolutely no idea about this when I started reading. Alice went quickly to her freezer, her city of ice, the chicken in reserve, the random renditions of rice (puddings, jollof). And whilst it was beautifully written, there were fair chunks that I completely skimmed or skipped over as I didn't really feel like they added anything to the part I was reading, nor would I miss anything important if I didn't read them.

Me duele no darle las 5 estrellas porque me encantaron todas y cada una de las historias entrelazadas pero me habría gustado más que fueran introducidas de manera coherente, pues a veces saltaban de una a otra de manera aleatoria para luego volver a otra y no tenía mucho sentido. And I think it is crucial to make clear, which the blurb to me completely fails to do, that this is a direct follow up to “Ordinary People” – revisiting the same group of characters 8 years further on. Past that, there was too much going on but also nothing really happening for a lot of this, and then there was a random sketch put in that I still can’t make sense of.As someone who perhaps admired “Ordinary People” but did not really enjoy the characters at all, it is perhaps not surprising that this sequel did not really work for me. A House for Alice by Diana Evans is a well-written story that revolves around themes of family, tragedy, and how the definition of home can change over time.

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