The House of Broken Bricks by Fiona Williams
|The House of Broken Bricks by Fiona Williams
|Category: Literary Fiction
|Reviewer: Sue Magee
|Summary: A character-driven story about loss and love, racism and the problems of living in a remote rural community. Highly recommended.
|Date: January 2024
|Publisher: Faber & Faber
|External links: Author's website
The House of Broken Bricks is the story of four people. Tess Hembry's roots are in Jamaica: temperamentally she might be happier there, but instead, she lives in the house on the riverbank, built of broken bricks. Insubstantial as it might look, it's stood the passage of time, storms and floods. Her husband, Richard, struggles to grow his vegetables, to complete the delivery rounds - and to bring in sufficient money. They have twin boys - Sonny and Max, the rainbow twins. Sonny's colouring reflects his mother's Jamaican heritage. Max takes after his father. People don't believe that they're related, much less twins and there's an assumption when Max is out with his mother that she's his nanny.
Tess would prefer to live in London - there's a temptation to go back there, with the benefits pressed hard by her mother and her sister, Peaches. They tout the advantages, particularly after The Tragedy, and feel that it's unreasonable of Richard to expect Tess to stay. There's an underlying implication that she'd be free of the covert racism she encounters at home. They even have a partner lined up and a plan for her to continue her studies. What will Tess do? Could she move to London when nature-loving Max would feel that he was in alien territory and not just because of his colour?
The contrasts between London and the countryside are exceptionally well-written. I felt like I was walking the fields with Sonny and Max. The mud of the riverbank squelched between my toes. Sonny's keen on gardening: Richard had hopes that Sonny would follow him into the business but Max isn't interested at all. He's a pure naturalist but adrift, even in the countryside as his whiteness singles him out.
If you need a story with a strong plot, The House of Broken Bricks might not be the book for you. It's character-driven and we explore the effects of loss on the remaining family members. They're all thrown together in the remote rural setting that magnifies their problems.
I read the book slowly. I wanted to absorb it and days after I finished reading I'm still thinking about the individual members. Richard perhaps comes off the page less well than Tess, Sonny and Max - but that's me being very picky. It's a superb book and one to which I'll return. I might know what happens but there's such pleasure in the writing that I won't find that a problem.
I'd like to thank the publishers for letting Bookbag have a review copy.
If this book appeals, you might also enjoy Sea Defences by Hilary Taylor. In The House of Broken Bricks you'll find yourself deep in the countryside. Sea Defences will do the same for the sea.
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