Other People’s Houses by by Kelli Hawkins is an intriguing and bittersweet tale of loss, grief and obsession. It could be akin to breakdown porn as readers get a front-row seat to the disintegration of someone’s mental health. However Hawkins handles lead character Kate with respect and sensitivity. This book is being compared to Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and I suspect it’s due to the similarities between Kate and TGOTT’s Rachel. Not only are both heavy drinkers, but they indulge in risky and obsessive behaviour… even though they know better. Both authors however, treat their leads sympathetically.
Other People's Houses
by Kelli Hawkins
Published by HarperCollins - AU
Source: Harper Collins, NetGalley
Genres: Psychological Thriller
Kate Webb still grieves for her young son, ten years after his loss. She spends her weekends hungover, attending open houses on Sydney's wealthy north shore and imagining the lives of the people who live there.
Then Kate visits the Harding house - the perfect house with, it seems, the perfect family.
A photograph captures a kind-looking man, a beautiful woman she once knew from university days, and a boy - a boy that for one heartbreaking moment she believes is her own son.
When her curiosity turns to obsession, she uncovers the cracks that lie beneath a glossy facade of perfection, sordid truths she could never have imagined.
But is it her imagination? As events start to spiral dangerously out of control, could the real threat come from Kate herself?
We know Kate’s son is dead and (I think) we can guess what happened, but we need to let it play out and for Hawkins to drip feed the details as the narrative unfolds – and in line with Kate’s spiralling mental health.
In her mid 40s, Kate is barely functioning. She’s holding down a job but drinks almost anything she can get her hands on to get her through the night. Each day she thinks she’ll make changes, but she can’t. She’s stuck in a holding pattern and cannot move on. And – in reality – she doesn’t want to.
She’s found solace however in going to open homes and imagining herself and her son there, living vicariously through those she sees in pictures on walls and trinkets/signs-of-life that are left lying around.
The Harding house is her dream house, so she’s already obsessed before she realises she knows the owner and their son is the same age hers would be, had he lived.
When Kate discovers the Harding household isn’t as happy as she’d believed she wants to make things better. And yes, the less-traumatised and more-sane of us realise this isn’t going to end well. For her it’s all about ‘saving’ the family unit.
But she goes too far and just keeps going.
Her actions here are like the proverbial car crash. We can see what’s coming but are (of course) powerless to do anything. At times it almost feels impossible that Kate herself can’t see the mistakes she’s making – and sometimes she does. But often too late.
This book takes a turn when some of our players die and Kate’s an obvious suspect. She knows – or at least believes – she’s innocent so wants to solve the mystery herself… at any cost to protect the boy her son could have been.
I loved this book by Hawkins. Kate is an engaging lead though obviously frustrating. It’s impossible however not to feel terribly sad for her.
I really liked Hawkins’ writing. Her prose is smart and snarky. There’s a bit of a focus on ‘society’ and class here which was interesting. I guess it reflects the setting of the book but made me realise my life is a world away from that as it stood out as really surprising.
I very much enjoyed the family dynamics playing in the background and involving Kate and her sister and her parents. I could easily place myself in both positions: understanding Kate’s defensiveness and desire to alienate herself; and the frustration of those around her, wanting to support but not condone her attitude and actions.
And of course there is the obvious reminder that we (often) have no idea what’s happening in the lives of others. That the way things look from the outside could be far different to reality.
This is Hawkins’ debut adult novel and an excellent read. I’m already looking forward to what comes next.
Other People’s Houses by by Kelli Hawkins was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.
I received an early copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.