Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Smell of Other People's Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart

A first novel by this author, and I came upon this wonderful book only by accident.  I’m so glad that I did.  It’s exceptionally good. 

There are multiple stories here, all interweaving, so that we share the lives of different teenagers living in a small community in Alaska in 1970.  Ruth, orphaned and living with a less than sympathetic Gran, wants her old life back, or at least a better life than she has now.  Alyce is a talented ballet dancer, torn between joining her beloved but monosyllabic father in his fishing boat or disappointing him and taking her chance for a future in dance.  Hank is a teenage runaway who falls off a ferry, and has to be rescued.  And Dora just wants to get away from her less than lovely parents.  There are many more characters we meet, all of them flawed and all of them relatable in spite of living in a remote place up near the Arctic that few people will ever know in real life.  It is a community made up of different cultures, Alaskan natives mixing with fishing and other settlers, and it’s a community that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock clearly knows very well.

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (I’m repeating the name because I want us to remember it and look out for what comes next!) is a journalist by profession.  This book started out as a collection of short stories, but she was persuaded to take just a few of them, and rework them together to make a whole.  She does so brilliantly as she tells of love, tragedy, and comedy.  She writes with a fresh voice, her observation acute, making for a read that has you smiling with the rightness of what she says.
So, if you’d like a novel that’s different from any you’ve read before, that is beautifully written, that moves you to tears and laughter, and teaches you how to make Eskimo ice-cream out of lard, berries and sugar, then this is the book for you!



Ann Turnbull said...

I definitely want to read this book! (Might pass on the lard ice-cream, though...)

Susan Price said...

Oh go on! Give the lard ice-cream a go. - Does sound like a great book.

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