Recommended Reading: ‘The Carriage House’
In her debut novel, The Carriage House (Scribner, 288 pp., $26), Louisa Hall takes a relaxed approach to reinterpreting Persuasion.
If it weren’t for two telling epigraphs from Jane Austen’s enduring novel about love lost and regained, even the sharpest reader might not see the influence. Once you start looking, it’s unmistakeable, and that foreknowledge makes for a pleasurable anticipation of plot twists. But Hall’s decision to shift the perspective to include multiple voices deepens the reader’s empathy for characters who were more minor (and noxious) in Persuasion.
The title’s carriage house was once the pride of William Adair, a well-to-do architect and status-obsessed father who exults in the triumphs of his daughters: actress Elizabeth, tennis prodigy Diana, and feisty Izzy. But the carriage house has fallen into disrepair (a land dispute has placed it on his neighbor’s property), and that disrepair extends to his daughters. The three women – so exceptional as young athletes, scholars, and beauties – have each, in their particular ways, disappointed in adulthood: Elizabeth’s acting ambitions go nowhere as her marriage goes bust; a knee injury ruins Diana’s chances at going pro, and she struggles with her fall-back plan to become an architect like her father and grandfather; and Izzy, just 17, is practically mute with rage.
The chapterlong points-of-view flit between each of these family members and more, including Adelia, William’s childhood sweetheart; the “help,” a live-in nurse who provides a useful outsider perspective; and William’s wife Margaux, a spectral presence who becomes crystalline in the pages of her journal, written in the early stages of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Memory, it follows, is a major preoccupation of the book, and the author, lively and especially alert to sensation, brings a welcome sharpness to such an amorphous subject. Her book is roomy enough to accommodate comedy and tragedy, empathy and the occasional annoyance with this preoccupied, unruly brood, and her consideration of memory – how shame is our sharpest memory, how the vivid remembrance of a past love can be enough to revive our present self – is just as expansive.
Louisa Hall reads from The Carriage House on Wednesday, March 20, 7pm, at BookPeople.