Books & Literature

Book Review: The Children’s House, by Alice Nelson

Outside the house one day Marina encounters Constance, a young refugee from Rwanda, and her toddler, Gabriel. Unmoored and devastated, they quickly come to depend on her.

Every now and then, you come across a story that doesn’t just need telling, it needs sharing and re-telling to give it justice. The Children’s House is one of those novels, Alice Nelson telling her tale magnificently.

We intimately get to know Marina, her husband Jacob, her step-son Ben and the other central characters to her complex and both heart-warming and heartbreaking world. Marina walks us through a life touched by the most incredible of people, Nelson magnificently bringing those characters to life.

It is important to note as you read through this book, that the people and stories are based on real experiences and personal stories that Nelson has been told herself, Nelson having lived in the very house she brings to life in her pages. Given this knowledge, it is easy to forgive character flaws as human flaws, making the book so much more personal to read.

Fascinatingly, Nelson manages to tell her story with very little dialogue – a style choice that I commend. It allows the reader to feel as though they are with Marina as she lives her life, observing the world through her lens and experiences. It also allows Nelson to explore in more depth, the history of her characters, and the rich and diverse landscapes they have come from. I can find no criticisms for the work, except that it perhaps ended too soon for me. I wished to embed myself further in Marina’s life and its complexities.

Whilst slow at times, Nelson is masterful in her character development and each step is important to the overall story. You won’t be able to skip ahead.

The civil war of Rwanda and the kibbutzim of Israel are discussed at great length, using the tragedies to inform and direct the narrative as it progresses. Lovers of biographical works will enjoy this work of fiction, straddling the real world as it does, based on living people and existing places. It is distanced enough from the past that Nelson can objectively talk about the darker taints, but culminates in an ending that will satisfy all.

I devoured all 293 pages in the course of six hours, but this novel is one for slow enjoyment over a Sunday coffee or a long plane ride. It is a very personal book that does an excellent job at providing complex insight to hard topics.

Reviewed by Zoe Butler
Twitter: @Zoe_rambles

Rating out of 10:  9

Distributed by: Penguin Random House Australia
Released: October 2018
RRP: $32.99

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