I bought Other People’s Houses by debut Australian author Kelli Hawkins because I loved the cover and the title. Like many other people, I’m fascinated by how other people live.
This story is told in the first person by Kate Webb, a middle-aged alcoholic living in Sydney. Kate worked in a real estate agency writing ads for properties (just by the way, my pet hate is ‘sort’-after properties which are regularly advertised in my local newspaper). Kate spent her weekends visiting open houses for properties for sale in suburbs where she would never be able to afford to buy, feeding her dream of the life she wished she had. The rest of the time Kate spent drinking herself into oblivion, resenting her mother and sister and grieving for her son Sasha, who had died somewhat mysteriously ten years before the story began.
When Kate visited the Harding House during an Open for Inspection she was besotted by the house and with the dream of what her life might have been like had Sasha lived, but she was also intrigued by the family whose home it was. While there Kate recognised the house’s owner, Pip Harding as someone she had known years ago from art school and became envious of Pip’s seemingly perfect life, especially her husband and teenage son, who would have been about the same age as Sasha if he had lived.
I should have disliked Kate, because amongst other stupid behaviours she drank and drove but strangely I felt as if I was on her side as her interest in the Hardings’ family life eventually became an obsession. Kate’s guilt and sadness over the death of her son and the breakdown of her marriage made her failings understandable, but they also led her into danger, in the style of The Girl on the Train.
As I commented earlier, I loved the photo used on the cover of this novel. Property, their prices and locations are an ongoing interest for many Australians including me, although the story being set in Sydney was not as interesting to me as it would have been had the story been set in Melbourne (location, location, location!) but as I said earlier, I’m also very interested in how other people live. Do they have a piano and bookcases stuffed with books and games or do they have an enormous, central wall-mounted television in their loungeroom? Does the kitchen look like somewhere their family would gather or don’t they cook at all? Is there a sheltered spot where someone can sit outside in the sun and read?
Rather than sharing my queries about other people’s bedrooms, I’ll get back to the story. The mystery of what happened to Sasha wasn’t revealed until quite late in the book, although there were quite a few (possibly too many) hints about what happened.
The story wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it and feel as if this author will improve with future books. I will be happy to read Kelli Hawkins’ next book.
My purchase of Other People’s Houses by Kelli Hawkins continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (May).