The Housekeeper

Often when I read a book, I want not only to experience the slings and arrows of the story, but to lose myself in a world as vividly drawn as my own. A place I step in to and do not want to leave. And so it was with The Housekeeper by Suellen Dainty.

In The Housekeeper we meet Anne, a woman broken by a relationship, who has in its destruction lost not only the man, but her career as a sous chef in his award-winning restaurant. All of a dither she takes a post as a Housekeeper to a successful blogger and businesswoman. Described as England's answer to Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey, Emma is given to pithy advice and rather lovely quotes, but while her work might invite Anne's curiosity, it is the dynamics of Emma's family that she is most drawn to, yearning as she is for her own. For the carefree children and the underlying sexual tension between Emma and her attractive husband.

While The Housekeeper has been described as a psychological thriller, it really isn't, at least not in The Girl On A Train sense of such a description, instead what we get is an impeccably drawn character study of Anne and a portrait of a marriage lived under the glare of social media today, and to me at least, it was utterly fascinating. An amble through the dusty bohemia of a life created but not actually lived. A behind the scenes look at so much of the Instagram worthy perfection shoved down our throats today. And a study of both envy, greed and disappointment played out by all the main characters.

Anne is both relatable and quietly menacing. Emma selling her soul for the rich rewards creating a facade can pay. While their own relationship is at once intimate, claustrophobic and distant in the extreme (as I can only imagine the relationship between Mistress of the House and the hired help can be), it is Anne's hushed observations of life in the shambles of a house and family that prove most fascinating and ultimately most destructive. It is her own story that proves to be all their undoings and it is ultimately the meshing of all their lives that provides the atmosphere for the entire book.

And oh what atmosphere! While we are at once soothed by Anne's interest in the advice Emma issues to her readers, and the cosy suppers she cooks and serves around the dimly lit kitchen table, we are also treated to vivid description of a life and home in disarray that Anne sets about bring order to. Taking quiet possession of all that she touches and more - all the secrets she reveals in the process.  

There are arty parties and drunken evenings around the dinner table. Pretentious conversation and children silently disintegrating before their blinkered eyes. A secret at the heart of a marriage endured for the glory it brings and a motive for intimacy the couple encourage with Anne.

I couldn't put it down.

Perhaps because Emma's online world is so like my own. Perhaps because though my world is orderly and contained, underneath it all I know that letting go, could so easily mean a life as dusty and chaotic as hers, or perhaps because these days we are all drawn in to the complex webs we weave in order not to deceive, but to thrive in a world where brand, and nothing but brand really matters.


The Housekeeper: A Novel
By Suellen Dainty

On My Wishlist...

Housekeeper's Diary

Wake up to the boy's names written in toothpaste on the bathroom cabinet. Debate having them adopted. Debate shutting the door and having a quick cry. Go in to their room and give them mean looks instead. Feel extraordinarily ineffective.

A new week. A new to-do list. A new book to be released (yay!).

Today then. Weeds to be picked along the front of the house. Frankincense oil to be dripped in to a new jar of avocado oil. (To keep the wrinkles at bay). An hour at the gym. A batch of gluten-free cookies to be baked. Scatter cushions to be laundered and re-scattered. Beds to be changed. A quick check to see whether the lawn has washed away overnight after so very much rain. The age-old debate of the housewife: whether it is dry enough to hang out the washing. Whether the Gods of the laundry basket are smiling down upon us today. Another cup of tea to smile in to, please? 

More trashing of what was never really treasure. A shed full of bits of furniture we thought we might have room for but don't. A bed frame still hanging about in the hallway, apparently without a home. A new bed in a box in the little bedroom. Must remember to buy butter. And to tell the darn milkman that it seems we just don't need as much milk in the Summer, when bowls full of cosy porridge aren't the order of the day. Must try harder not to stare in utter fascination at the beginning of a moustache on my son's top lip. I am driving the poor child half crazy lately with my constant need to touch him, now that he is no longer so insistent on it. 

Perhaps a curry to use up all the vegetables weeping in the fridge? A home to be found for the bright pink boxing gloves I use to hammer the heck out of the very ugly punch-bag on the patio. A minor worry about what I look like bouncing around the garden beating up a big stick. A more significant worry that after Finley took it in to his head to video me doing such a thing, I might just find myself going viral. 

I do hope though, my Mum is watching from heaven. Laughing at my antics. Two and a half years on, the waves of missing her seem to be coming thicker and faster. Grief cloys. And stays. Perhaps grief and what to expect should be taught in class like so much algebra? I do not go to the grave. Can't decide if it would help. Though I worry the grass has grown over her and feel guilt at every turn.  

Changes this week. So many changes. To hush life back to what it should be. "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.". Lately my head is so full of all the shoulds of a life working on the internet,  that I have quite forgotten who I am. Tis a terrible thing to forget who you are. So ludicrously irresponsible. Perhaps the weekend away in the cobbled streets of York at the end of this month will help? Restore order and the beautiful violence of inspired work.

A note to self to deal with the halo of grey around my hairline. A few minutes taken to deal with the wobbly pile of books at the side of my bed. (So much for the neat order of a Kindle, when one cannot resist the pull of paper.) A slice of toast with marmite and cucumber. The handful of vitamins I swallow every day. Five minutes sat in silence in the chair in the corner of my room. 

And now. A shower standing in lemon and peppermint oil to astonish my senses. My own name written in the steam of the bathroom cabinet. The defiant act of the demented Mother. 

On My Wishlist...

Surviving The School Holidays

Well heavens the first week of the Summer holidays went past in a swoosh of boys needing lifts hither, thither and back to the Junior Gym, a fluster over a bicycle I was buying as a birthday present for Ste, more blood tests, many, many many sandwiches made and served (because teenagers NEVER stop eating and are also incapable, apparently, of sticking a slice of ham between two rounds of bread!), a cobbled path unearthed by the gardener, a terrible meal in a Mexican restaurant,  damn bluebottle flies EVERYWHERE and more mess in the house than a houseproud woman should ever have to cope with.


Oh how the Summer turns my world upside down.  I am you see a woman who likes routine (did you just keel over in surprise then??), so come the long stretch that is the Summer holidays I am prone to getting a little antsy. Occasionally even (whisper it) grumpy. This is, of course, deeply unreasonable. But then I am a deeply unreasonable. And so is the weather. Damn persistent rain.

This is what I know: as sure as eggs are eggs, Summer will come a-calling and if we women of routine can learn to anticipate it and set aside our grand plans till school starts all over again, then we can not just survive it, but actually enjoy a break from our own lovely, daily grind and enjoy the sandwich making and the paddling pool filling, and the running of a taxi-service, and the refusal of slightly smelly teenage boys to climb out of their pits until impossible hours, then grunt around the house with the beginnings of a hunchback so frequently do they stare at screens and walk in to tables. 

Gosh did I sound grumpy again? Shame on me.

The whole matter for me is of course exasperated on two levels. Firstly, I am a writer and I need my own company in order to function and secondly, I own Finley. While Stevie is a quiet eleven year old delight,  at nearly fourteen, Finley is as relentlessly, scrumptiously chatty as ever and from the moment he sits on my bed in the morning, talking the bare-naked legs off me, to the hour I practically have to knock him out with a tennis racket to get him up to bed in the evening, he is talking and of course when he is here all day long, there is no escaping the swings and roundabouts of WWE,  the new Lady Doctor Who, and the frankly filthy Peter of Family Guy fame.  

OF course his being abundant with joie de vivre is my own fault. I should have been a crueler Mother. Barked when he interrupted the formation of a beautiful sentence or yawned every time the tardis was mentioned. Sent him in to the street with a gingham wrapped sandwich on a stick over his shoulder and told him not to return until dusk. But instead I gave him free reign to grow in to a child abundant with eloquent opinion and confidant enough to share them. A beautiful, well-behaved, polite, interesting kid who loves his Mum and likes nothing more than hanging out with her and watching her reaction to the silly things Sheldon says on The Big Bang Theory.

Oh what a fool I was!

But there is no time for regret. While the respective Fathers of both Stevie and Finn have to carry on working at the bliss of careers outside the home , I am here and just ripe for full-time tweenie sitting, tuna-pasta making and force-fed cartoons. And so, in this, the tenth school summer holiday of my own career in Motherhood I am teaching myself to be in the moment. To set aside the worry that BrocanteHome will fall down if I am not sat at my desk twenty-four seven and instead to understand that it is okay to be dragging the boys around a forest for the sake of their eyes, surely half way to burned by their obsession with little screen, instead. That I will still be able to feed us all if I watch Boss Baby instead of sending out a newsletter and that all my grand schemes can wait until September.

So at the end of this long rant, this is what I want you know. As I have told so many of you during our Pep-Talks, all your grand schemes can wait too. That if this is the last Summer before your babba starts school then it is ok to enjoy every minute just quietly adoring their very littleness. That having a house full for six long weeks is not conducive to good housekeeping and that's ok too because I won't be attending your house for an impromptu inspection until at least the middle of September don't you know?

So cut yourself some slack me darling.

In the meantime. Stevie has gone back to his Mum and Mark has spirited Finley away for the weekend, and though Ste and I are ready for a lovely evening resplendent with an Indian Takeaway and a film, I am bereft without them.

Never let it be said that I am anything other than contrary. 


On My Wishlist...

Housekeeper's Diary

So you get the call. The call that says the doctor wants to see you immediately. And you panic because it was only this morning that you had blood tests to finally determine the cause of your aches and pains, and now you think you must be halfway to dead. Which is odd because halfway to dead really doesn't feel too bad at all.

And so you hurry in to the room to see your new doctor and he is a charming sixty something man called Gary who smiles and says don't worry you aren't dying. And you breathe a sigh of relief because it isn't cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, dangerous hypertension, or even tubes blocked with cholesterol, he merely wants to feel your tummy.  To see if there are any suspicious lumps, apparently. But no, there aren't. So perhaps you are a medical anomaly. Or maybe one particular, naughty liver enzyme was having a funny turn. Or maybe, very probably, you are low on calcium, for heaven knows aren't you always low on something? Platelets usually, whatever they may be. And though you can't quite fathom why he has come to these conclusions, you hear the word liver and declare that you have given up red wine and he looks up from frowning at his computer and says "Are you quite mad?" and you decide there and then that you like him and forgive him for being so very dramatic and summoning you to his surgery.

All is well. There is nothing wrong. Not anywhere. Not in your silly, weary body or in your gorgeous, happy home. You find this rather shocking. For lately the fingers of fear have been wrapping themselves around your neck late at night, because when one has been so frequently knocked off her ballet shoes, contentment, good health, real love, a thriving business... all of it feels dangerous.

You wander around your day with the scent of suspicion up your nose. Mildly astonished at the lack of things to worry about.

You are so engrossed in your beautiful work that you convince yourself you just aren't noticing the things that require concern. That perhaps if you lift your head up from your computer long enough you will notice a giant, impossible bill you have forgot to pay, that your child has developed a ketamine habit, though he barely leaves the garden and you haven't noticed any shady, greasy dealers chucking drugs over the fence. That though you do not have a jealous bone in your body and trust him implicitly, you will discover your man having a passionate dalliance right under your nose or that the freckle on your arm is actually a hideous tumor that will finish you off in the space of three weeks. 

This then is the fear. An imaginary game of jeopardy. A sublime state of anxiety and distrust that feels so very familiar you are more at home with it than you are the truth.  

That night the man who would not dream of having an affair, lies next to you, stroking that same freckle on your your arm and telling you how incredibly well you are doing. And because you are sometimes ridiculous, you argue with him. Tell him that he doesn't understand and that no, you cannot lift your head up from your computer, because doesn't he know that the whole world might fall down if you do?

And he says it's time to practice what you preach. To practice extreme self-care. To get your hair done. Take proper time out to read not just to try to absorb words on a page late at night, when you are so tired you can barely see. He says you need to remember to eat lunch. To stop being scared when there is nothing to be sacred of. 

He whispers "You are ok" and for once you believe him.

On My Wishlist...