Ahhhh! I absolutely adored The Smell of Other People’s Houses!
It is the. B.E.S.T. I tell you. I think it was the sniffing. And yes, I did sniff this book. I think that’s a requirement of reading it??? (Okay, honestly I sniff a lot of books, and don’t look at me like that. Books smell delicious.) I was pretty much doomed to love this once I saw the title and read the first chapters and realised how sensory and beautiful the writing would be. My ONLY complaint is that it’s so small!! I wanted mooooore!
- The writing is a visual and sensory feast for one’s eyeballs.
I could honestly taste and smell and see everything. And do you know how hard that is to write?! REALLY HARD. But this book kind of swallowed me. Although, just in case you were worried, the characters don’t go about actively sniffing things. The whole “smell of other people’s houses” kind of also reflects on the conglomeration of families the book is about and how different they are. And it links smells to feelings and it’s altogether lyrical and beautiful.
- I LOVE THE WRITING SO MUCH I WANT TO EAT IT.
- It has 4 narrators — but they’re all different and interesting.
Usually I despise multiple narrators. (Especially in 1st person because it gets soooo confusing and voices blend.) BUT NOT HERE. This book did it perfectly! All of the characters are unique and complex. I JUST WISH THERE HAD BEEN MORE ON THEM. BECAUSE I LOVE THEM SO. Reading such a tiny book was just like sniffing the gingerbread without getting to eat any. #seewhatIdidthere ANYWAY! A quick recap of them:
- RUTH: Who lives with her gran who kind of hates her for being a teen pregnancy case.
- DORA: Who is actually not an explorer, #relief, and comes from a super abusive family which is SO SAD and she’s such a scared but angry kid I LOVED HER.
- ALYCE: Who is a ballerina! But also a fisherman! So a ballerfisherina? (That works, don’t deny it.) And she wants to dance, but also loves fishing with her dad.
- HANK: Who has run away with his two little brothers from his sucky home life and they are all adorable and homeless and tragic.
Their Respective Smells (according to ME anyway) Would Be:
Ruth: tinned food and loneliness
Dora: Whisky and fear contrasting with pie and woodsmoke
Alyce: Fish guts and salt and family
Hank: Staleness and crumpled old clothes and caring
(I realise not all of these are “smells” per se, but IT’S AESTHETIC.)
- It’s set in Alaska!!
In the 1970s! Do you know how much I know about Alaska? LIKE 3%. I attribute my small suitcase of knowledge to once upon a time, when I was a small human, I read The Year of Miss Agnes WHICH WAS AWESOME. And also there was this book my mum read out loud that I think was set in Alaska? The Blue Bear or something? It was about guys who GOT EATEN BY A FRIKKIN’ BEAR. (Thanks for that childhood trauma, Mum. <3) Ahem…but regardless I loved learning more about life in Alaska. And from the author’s note, I gather she grew up in Alaska and a lot of the stories are a conglomeration of things she experienced or people she knew (!!!!) Regardless it all felt very REAL…like I was totally THERE. Such an awesome feeling.
- Also there was delicious food.
I’m a sucker for books that take the time to make me hungry. Wait. No. This is bad. CURSE THEM. (I’m joking, I love them.) Also there was blueberry pie which particularly hurt. Also fish. I’m not so keen on fish. AKA: I hate fish. I would die in Alaska.
- The stories interlocked splendiferously.
I mean, there are 4 storylines here…but the way they meshed was pure magic. Good job, book.
My negatives are like teeny tiny guppies.
Simply that, while captivated the heart of the protagonists’ journeys, I felt a bit cheated about how fast it moved along. Alyce’s story didn’t feel deep enough. Hank’s backstory was a little unclear. And I also am not entirely sure on everyone’s nationalities. I TRIED TO READ CAREFULLY. But I cannot tell you who is native Alaskan or white. #confused
Hello new favourite story!
It made me feel warm and comfortable (perfect wintery read!!) and the characters were all so precious and wonderful. Also the sniffing of houses was very relatable to me because I have a very sensitive sense of smell myself and perhaps sniff the occasional house too. THIS BOOK IS FOR ME AND I AM A PLEASED FISH. *
* Except for that mild fact that I hate fish. But I love this book. But shhhhh, the metaphor-thingy still does work. BECAUSE ALASKA = FISH.
THANK YOU TO ALLEN & UNWIN FOR THE REVIEW COPY. The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is published JULY 2016.
Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else.
Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother.
Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father.
Alyce is staying at home to please her parents.
Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don’t save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves?
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s extraordinary, stunning debut is both moving, and deeply authentic. These intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare and wonderful talent.