Recently orphaned, Angel Martin moves into ab oarding house populated by an assortment of eccentric and colourful characters. She’s befriended by the gregarious Winifred Varnham – a vision in exotic fabrics – and the numerically gifted Barnaby Grange. But not everyone is kind and her scrimping landlady, Missus Potts, is only the beginning of Angel’s troubles.
Angel refuses to accept her fate and focusses her affections on her two maiden aunts. Despite their resistance, she is determined to forge a sense of belonging. Her visits to the aunts’ house on the Bay soon expand her world in ways she couldn’t have imagined.
Elizabeth Stead brings her classic subversive wit and personal insight to this nostalgic portrait of wartime Sydney. In Angel Martin, she has created a singular and irrepressible character. A true original.
Literary fiction novel The Aunt’s House is a quirky, charming tale of family, legacy and identity. Sydney author Elizabeth Stead brings warmth and wit to the novel, and a three-dimensional protagonist who readers have no choice but to adore.
The novel is set in 1942, and eleven-year-old Angel Martin is an orphan and the newest addition to a boarding house run by Missus Potts. Her father died many years earlier, and her mother has just passed away whilst living in a sanatorium. Angel is unwanted by her paternal aunts because they believe her mother was responsible for their brother’s death years earlier.
The novel was a bit of a slow start for me, the direction of the story a little unclear and my faith in the story wavering. But, over time, I grew to love little Angel and her resilient personality. The book is written from Angel’s perspective, but in third person, and so we learn to love her voice. It’s a bit stream of conscious, but also really hopeful and glass-half-full. She’s quite a quirky, strange girl and so her narration reflects that throughout the book.
There are moments of humour peppered throughout the story, amidst moments of darkness. A few of the men in the boarding house either try, or succeed, to sexually abuse Angel. She doesn’t seem to dwell on the assault much and pushes it out of her mind, and perhaps this is her method of avoiding and ignoring what happened so that she doesn’t have to confront the events.
“Angel liked to think B and K truly loved each other — she wanted them to love each other and she wanted them to be married and have lots of babies. But perhaps the whole thing might have been just a dream and nothing happened at all. It might just have been hearts on fire at first sight between stops.”
Mental illness is a strong theme throughout the book. Angel’s mother was living in a sanatorium when she died, and a lot of people in Angel’s life think she’s inherited her mother’s mental instability. Angel does what she wants, when she wants, and people find her tough and hard to manage.
Another strong theme is family and companionship. Angel forms friendships with numerous people in town and their bonds strengthen over the course of the novel. In the boarding house, she strikes up a friendship with the insightful Barnaby Grange, and the interesting and eccentric Winifred Warnham. She also regularly takes the tram to see her Aunts, who do not want her in their home. But Angel is determined and loveable, and soon, a connection is formed.
“She tried to remember what her father looked like before the accident but her remembrance was more a smell. Not a tram smell. Sunday was a tram smell, the electric smell of wood and rails and hot cables. No, the smell of her father she remembered was motorcycle racing fuel and the sight of it in leaked black patches on the backyard grass.”
The Aunt’s House is about the complexities of humans, and the importance of not passing judgment onto others. The characters in the book are all very unique, but they’re a clever and fun bunch of characters and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about them all.
I’d recommend this to readers of adult fiction and lovers of literary works. This is incredibly character-driven, and so perfect for fans of complex and dimensional fiction.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Aunts’ House