My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster

My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A personal memoir told from the point of view of the houses that Margaret Forster lived in from birth onward.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 272 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099593971

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Love them or loathe them, the houses we live in have a way of defining our lives. Author Margaret Forster decided to take this idea a stage further when writing her autobiography. Instead of putting herself centre-stage, she allows the houses that she has lived in to tell her story instead. From humble beginnings in a council-house on the notorious Raffles estate, we see Margaret's fortunes improve as her writing career blossoms. Student digs in Oxford, a shared house on Hampstead Heath, a villa in the Algarve and a remote cottage in the Lake District all have their time in the spotlight; but it soon becomes clear that only one very special house can earn the most precious title: HOME.

Reading this book is like taking a peek though someone else’s window in order to observe the goings-on inside. I felt like a shadowy spectator, hovering over proceedings with an intense and insatiable curiosity. Each house had its own dedicated chapter and our author really brings each building to life. Not only can we picture what each house looked like, but more importantly, we understand how living in each place made Margaret feel. One house, in particular, shines brightly above all others and is transformed from an unloved pile of bricks into a vibrant family home and later in life, a secure and cosy refuge for Margaret when she faces health problems.

The intense relationship between authors and houses is not new. It seems no coincidence that one of Forster's most respected works is a biography of Daphne Du Maurier, who had an all-consuming obsession with her Cornish home Menabilly, which was the basis for Manderley in Rebecca. Another example cited in the book is Casa Guidi, the Florence home of Elizabeth and Robert Browning. Elizabeth had a passion for this house, which inspired her to write some of her greatest poetry. A house filled with character can clearly become a great asset for an author.

The last chapters of the book are incredibly poignant, as Margaret discusses her cancer battle and the inevitability of death. At this point in her life, she has a symbiotic relationship with her beloved home and she struggles with the two options before her: to leave her home for the last time and spend her final days in a hospice, or die peacefully at home, changing the character of the house forever. Both options seem unbearable. Margaret sadly lost her battle with cancer earlier this month, which makes her story even more touching.

My Life in Houses is a fitting tribute to an extraordinary woman who will surely be missed by her family, friends and readers. In this book, she shares the story of a life well-lived and the power of our homes to shape and influence our lives. Many thanks to the publishers for my copy of this fascinating and thought-provoking book.

One chapter in My Life in Houses discusses the difficulty that Margaret had writing her novel The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster during her illness. Bookbag loved the finished story, a dark and compelling tale which is both sensitive and thought-provoking.

Buy My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster at

Buy My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster at


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Last modified on 7 April 2018, at 14:40