The Little House by Philippa Gregory
I have read all of Gregory’s Tudor court novels and I have already found a keen enthusiasm for her and her style of writing. The only other book I have read aside from the Tudor novels was ‘The Wise Woman’ which was still an essentially historical novel. This particular novel I was leant by a friend who read it before me and kept me updated with the plot when I became interested. She gave me a vague idea but not massive amounts of detail so the book was far from spoilt, so when I came to this novel, I had some idea what kind of storyline I was approaching.
The novel opens with a brief introduction to the main character Ruth, and very quickly introduces a seemingly secure family unit in which she is involved. Fundamental flaws, however, can be seen from the off. My keen English Lit analysis mind had an absolute field day analysing the language and interpreting it all the way through. Even odd words on the first page were the heart of what the novel was essentially about. So we meet Ruth, who is married to Patrick and as the novel opens, they are going to visit his parents for Sunday dinner – something they do every Sunday. The day is extremely routine with his parents fussing over Patrick and dividing the chore of spending time with Ruth in order to get alone time with their son. A house is brought up in conversation – it lies just down the road – and Patrick has had his eye on it for some time. Ruth is reluctant to move, however, as the drive to her job would be long and she likes the flat. The thought of children is also brought up, much to Ruth’s surprise as she had no intention of having children until much later in her life. the comments, however, are seemingly harmless and they return home. Patrick, however, in the following weeks becomes more sexually promiscuous which she takes as a compliment but we, the reader, are aware of a distinct undertone and intention to his actions. Inevitably, she falls pregnant – much to the delight of Patrick and his parents. Plans all then fall into place for the couple to move into the new cottage – all of the decisions Elizabeth – Patrick’s mum – makes regardless of what Ruth says or wants. She creates what she believes is the perfect household – one like her own. When the baby finally comes along, unfortunately Ruth has to have a caesarean and when she wakes the baby that is put into her arms is dry and she actually questions whether or not it is hers. She feels like the baby has been separated from her from the start and when she returns home with Patrick she becomes increasingly unhappy. She makes mistakes with the baby because of her inexperience and her lack of sleep because of her crying makes her seem negligent. Patrick’s parents are constantly there, seemingly helpful, to back her up but the intimacy the reader witnesses between Grandmother and child is startling and the grandmother takes every opportunity to have the baby for herself. Ruth’s mistakes make her seem ever the unreliable mother and it becomes clear that mother and baby aren’t bonding. Her GP puts her on anti-depressants which she becomes addicted to and finally a misinterpreted situation leads to grave consequences for Ruth. Though Elizabeth seems to mean well, it soon becomes clear that she is a manipulative cow keen to only get what she wants from Ruth and turn the family against her in a desperate attempt to achieve the ‘ideal rural family’ as the blurb describes it.
No review can really express every complicated part of this novel. Its very much an in-depth psychological thriller that you can’t put down. I started reading it yesterday evening and read into the small hours and completed it today – I don’t think I have ever devoured a whole book so quickly. This book made me feel angry and frustrated in parts because of Ruth’s inability to just stand up for herself and because of the downright sick manipulations of the people around her. It didn’t take long for me to come to loathe Elizabeth and Patrick for the parts they played. Elizabeth bends everything to her own will whilst seeming to be only helpful and stabbing Ruth continually in the back. Patrick is a weak mummy’s boy who is the perfect example of the spoilt brat who thinks that his wife should do everything for him and his involvement with the baby and chores should be minimal… Suffice to say, That didn’t go down well. The anger and the frustration is persistent throughout – it doesn’t let up and though this is a perfect example of a well-written novel as I was hanging on every word, I actually became tired of the emotions I felt and that there was little or no relief from it. Though I believe that is meant to be the point of the novel – there is no release for Ruth – it was nevertheless a flaw, if a small one.
This book will leave you angry and will drag you very much into its pages until you start to feel the tension of the emotions being experienced in the novel. You won’t be able to put it down. Get it read!