In Peggy Frew’s debut novel, House of Sticks she displays a keen understanding of the mistakes and indecisions that make up a life, and explores just how fragile that life can be.
Bonnie is uneasy in her life. Looking around her it seems that everyone wears their roles more comfortably than she does. This feeling is one that will grab readers, it is the kind of connection and shared understanding that most people long for in a book, the sense that somebody, somewhere has felt the way that they do.
The characters in this book could be anyone, in any household in Australia, and that is exactly why it has such broad appeal. As the reader is hurled straight into Bonnie’s shoes, it becomes difficult to separate reality from her bias and paranoias, which makes reading this a very personal experience. Her relationship with Pete is a lovely one, and anyone that has stumbled through first love into a long term relationship will recognise the doubts that grow over time, and the struggle to keep things like passion, self identity and spontaneity alive. Douggie is the catalyst for a tension that could just as easily be imagined as real, and his constant presence in Bonnie and Pete’s household, with Bonnie’s escalating anxiety towards him, encourages us to question our own attitudes and perceptions.
In a setting that is so familiar, written dialogue can sometimes seem forced or unnatural, but Peggy Frew handles it well and has created characters that are natural and utterly believable. There is a comfort in reading this book that perhaps you are not alone in your insecurities and wonderings about what more life could be.
This excellent first novel shows a deep understanding of the layers of our society and the lives that take place behind closed doors. House of Sticks probes behind, around and underneath society’s expectations of ‘happy families’ and motherhood to reveal rushed and disconnected lives cluttered with doubts and unwashed dishes.