House of Glass, by Susan Fletcher


At first glance, House of Glass seems to fit neatly into the tradition of English Gothic haunted-house stories: an unusual or unreliable narrator (Clara Waterfield, age twenty and a sufferer of osteogenesis imperfecta, which renders her bones dangerously brittle; her beloved mother is dead of cancer and her stepfather not unkind but distant) is summoned to a stately home (Shadowbrook, in Gloucestershire) that represents some kind of sanctuary (the opportunity to use her newly acquired horticultural skills in the cultivation of a glasshouse for Shadowbrook’s owner, the mysterious Mr. Fox). “Trouble” is darkly hinted at (by the man who drives Clara from the station to the house), but our narrator remains skeptical of anything that can’t be touched or proven. Still, the house’s staff seem to be hiding something (the overly cheerful housekeeper, Mrs. Bale, and two frightened maids from the village, Harriet and Maud), and eventually our narrator experiences some uncanny goings-on for themselves. Intellectually frustrated by the apparent impossibility of the supernatural, our narrator seeks to uncover the truth, while simultaneously revealing themselves to the reader as being an ever more untrustworthy and subjective observer.

Roughly, that is what happens in the first half of House of Glass, but Susan Fletcher innovates by making Clara not less believable, but more so. Learning to shed her preconceptions about rationality and the nature of knowledge, she also learns to shed idealized images of other people: too frail throughout childhood and adolescence to have a normal social life, she is forced to meet people at Shadowbrook who are – like all real people – contradictory, confusing, and illogical in their actions. This will eventually prove the key to solving the mystery of Shadowbrook, which – it’s whispered – is the ghost of Veronique Pettigrew, the daughter of the family that used to own the place. To say too much more would be to spoil the clever way in which Fletcher undermines the tropes of the Gothic romance genre: the crazed, over-sexed woman (Bertha in Jane Eyre, Cathy in Wuthering Heights), the deceptive housekeeper (Mrs. Danvers, Mrs. Fairfax), the brooding romantic hero whose role, in House of Glass, is spread over several male characters and in one instance combined with the trope of the taciturn-but-sexy man of the soil. Fletcher makes us consider the difference between real life and fiction. We think we are reading one sort of book, one particular set of accepted illusions, but that too is an illusion: House of Glass is a different book at its end, once we grow to understand – along with Clara, whose book-derived ideas about life echo Catherine Morland’s in Northanger Abbey, though to an effect that’s alarming rather than amusing – what it is we’re actually reading.

About three-quarters of the way through, the device that has brought all of these characters together in one place is revealed, and it’s the weakest part of the book, as such devices tend to be. Still, if the book resonates with Jane Eyre in its early sections, it’s worth remembering that Charlotte Bronte resorts to a universally-derided and equally implausible trick in order to reunite Jane and Rochester; Fletcher’s use of convoluted coincidence can be read as another comment on the genre she’s working with. House of Glass is fluid, addictive, and very clever, all at once: I can’t recommend it more highly.

This post is a stop on the House of Glass blog tour, which runs all week; other stops can be found below. Thanks to Virago for the review copy!

House of Glass Blog Tour


19 thoughts on “House of Glass, by Susan Fletcher

  1. This must be the first single-book post you’ve done in ages! It sounds rather like Bitter Orange (as well as Jane Eyre), and thus very appealing. I had a copy on request at the library but cancelled my hold because I know I won’t get to it before the end of the year. I’ll get it out as soon as I’m back in the country after Christmas, though.

    • It is definitely the first single-book post for…maybe all of 2018?! I’m veering away from them now because I like making them long, and the velocity of my reading is now such that I don’t have the time to write an in-depth review of every book, even though I’d like to write *something* about every book. I actually wish I could have made this review longer, but again… out of time.

      • I can totally understand that. I’m fully committed to writing *something* about every book I read, even if it’s just a few sentences. I only feel obligated to do a full review if I’ve gotten the book from the publisher – so I can see why you’ve stopped taking/requesting new books. You get plenty from work anyway! Even so, I sometimes end up writing very brief reviews and combining them into roundups. This may happen more and more as the end of the year approaches and I try desperately to review all the 2018 releases I have copies of.

      • Yeah – a lot of the stuff I would request as a blogger is stuff I can get more easily as a bookseller from the publishers’ reps, and my side of the contract with them isn’t a book review so much as it is the possibility of exposure and promotion in the shop, so I feel a bit less bad about not doing full-length reviews of those. I like your roundups! (Roundups in general are fun.)

  2. I’m glad you liked this so much! I found Fletcher’s early work absorbing, especially Oystercatchers, but have had less patience with her more recent novels (Corrag and The Silver Dark Sea) which I felt became self-indulgent and buried in description. I’d definitely like to try this one, though.

    It’s interesting to hear that it stars a character with OI, as well – I’ve only seen this condition mentioned in one other work of fiction before (and unsurprisingly it was by Jodi Picoult!)

  3. erinmurrayquinlan says:

    I went through (or perhaps continue to go through) the stages of grief upon finishing this book. I can’t think of the last time I was so devastated to leave a world. I’m sure I’ll have to pick it up again very soon, once I’ve reached the acceptance stage on a few of the outcomes…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s