Read The House of Memories Online

Authors: Monica McInerney

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women

The House of Memories

BOOK: The House of Memories
8.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

International Praise for

The House of Memories

The House of Memories
is a suspenseful, deeply emotional story of a woman’s journey to save herself from drowning in grief. Its exploration of the depths of heartbreak is unblinkingly honest, yet ultimately it’s a celebration of the power of family and connection to heal and inspire hope. An unforgettable read.”

New York Times
bestselling author Susan Wiggs

“Beautifully composed of equal parts soul and wit,
The House of Memories
is a deeply affecting novel about the anguish that breaks us and the relationships that can put us back together. Monica McInerney’s tale of a family struggling to move forward in the aftermath of one terrible moment in time is everything that a powerful story of healing from grief should be. Its heart is huge, its pulse palpable, and its narrators irresistible. I read it voraciously.”

—Erika Marks, author of
The Guest House

“The twists and turns of modern families are explored in this warm novel, which will have you reaching for the tissue box. This will keep Monica’s longtime fans happy and make her many new ones.”

Woman’s Day

“A compelling tale that is ultimately uplifting.”

The Sunday Mail

“There are two sides to every story in Monica McInerney’s new heartwarming page-turner. . . . You’ll laugh but you’ll cry a lot more.”

Marie Claire

“A beautiful story about blended families and the power love possesses to hurt and to heal. A perfect weekend read.”


“A touching and life-affirming tale of family bonds, tragic loss, forgiveness, and the power of love.”

The Advertiser
(Adelaide, Australia)

“Filled with humor and sadness in equal measure,
The House of Memories
is an emotional seesaw that had even this battle-hardened reader reaching for a tissue.”

The West Australian

“A wonderfully emotional and tense novel all about what happens when you try to bury grief. . . . McInerney is an expert in portraying the nuances and complications of family life. Her characters never take the easy way out and she loves exploring ethical dilemmas. This is a novel that asks all the most painful questions . . . mesmerizing.”

Red Magazine

“This is a beautifully told story with real emotional depth. Another triumph for Monica McInerney and another great story for her readers.”

Irish Independent

“An emotionally charged novel . . . exquisitely written. Monica McInerney creates the perfect balance of well-crafted characters and a captivating story. Interspersed with warmth and humor, it is a story that is sure to engross from start to finish.”

Ulster Tatler

“Packed full of warmth and humor . . . another engaging read from McInerney.”

Better Homes and Gardens

“Sensitive and intelligent.”

The Age

Praise for Monica McInerney and Her Novels

“Vivid characterizations and sharply honed dialogue. . . . McInerney brings humor and insight into issues of sibling rivalry, family secrecy, and romantic betrayal.”

The Boston Globe

“You’ll be laughing out loud one minute and crying the next.”


“One of those rare books you could recommend to anyone and know that they’ll love it.”

Australian Women’s Weekly

“A modern masterpiece . . . a wonderful, bittersweet tale that will capture your heart and imagination.”

Ulster Tatler

“Emotional and deeply moving . . . will quickly become a favorite with fans of women’s fiction.”

RT Book Reviews

“Filled with enough heartbreak and redemption to keep even the most fickle readers swooning by story’s end.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“McInerney’s bewitching multigenerational saga lavishly and lovingly explores the resiliency and fragility of family bonds.”


“[For] fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Weiner, Helen Fielding, and Jennifer Crusie.”

—Curled Up with a Good Book


Lola’s Secret

At Home with the Templetons

Greetings from Somewhere Else

Upside Down Inside Out

The Faraday Girls

Family Baggage

The Alphabet Sisters





A Novel


New American Library

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014



USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

A Penguin Random House Company

Published by New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Previously published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Group (Australia).

Copyright © Monica McInerney, 2012

Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.




McInerney, Monica.

The house of memories/Monica McInerney.

pages cm.

ISBN 978-0-698-13726-4

1. Women—Fiction. 2. Grief—Fiction. 3. Family life—Fiction. I. Title.

PR9619.4.M385M35 2013

823'.92—dc23 2013022282



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.





Title page

Copyright page























































Reader's Guide

About the Author

For my nieces and nephews, with lots of love


he first time I met my uncle Lucas I tried to steal something from him. It’s ironic, really, considering what he would ask me to do twenty-six years later.

I was seven, on a visit to London with my mother and my father, Lucas’s younger brother. We’d been traveling through my father’s native England on holiday from our home in Australia. I was too young to realize the trip was a last-ditch effort to keep my parents’ marriage afloat. Perhaps I should have guessed. Since we’d flown from Melbourne Airport two weeks earlier, they hadn’t stopped fighting.

Lucas lived in a three-story terrace house in west London, not far from Paddington Station, two blocks in from the Bayswater Road and close to Hyde Park. Not that I knew any of those landmarks then. I remember wondering who had to mow all the grass I could see through the park gates, and thinking the houses looked like wedding cakes. I also remember running up and down the steps outside Lucas’s house while we waited for him to answer our knock.

I was an only child at that stage, and was used to adult attention, but I was also used to living in the shadow of my parents’ arguments. I think they were fighting when Lucas opened the door. Not physically, just the usual exchange of well-crafted, well-spoken insults. I remember Lucas running a hand through his thick mop of brown curls and saying in his lovely deep voice, “Still at it, you two?” before getting down on his haunches, looking me right in the eye and saying with a big smile, “Hello. You must be Arabella.”

“Ella,” I said firmly. Even at that age, I hated my full name.

“Ella,” he said. “Much nicer. Do you know what that is backward?”

I nodded. “Alle.”

He held out his hand. “Hello, Alle. I’m Sacul.”

We followed him in, Dad and Lucas already in conversation, my mother trailing behind and complaining about her aching feet, caused by the high heels she’d insisted on wearing, though we were having a sightseeing-around-London-on-foot day. That might have been what she and my father were fighting about on the doorstep. Or it could have been any of a thousand other things. I was ignoring the adults by now, in any case. I was too busy looking around.

My parents had been here the previous year, visiting Lucas while on one of my father’s many business trips abroad. I’d not gone on that trip, remaining in Australia in the care of a family friend. My father worked in the mining industry—as an accountant, not underground—often traveling to the various locations owned by his multinational employer. Sometimes during school holidays Mum and I traveled with him. So I was used to staying in big hotels and luxurious apartments. But no place I’d seen compared to this house.

It wasn’t the high ceilings, the long hall, the staircase, the many doors, the fabric wallpaper or the books everywhere that grabbed my attention. It was the
. The place was filthy. Not only that, there wasn’t a bare surface to be seen. Boxes overflowing with paper littered the hallway, producing a kind of maze effect. One long wall was lined with bookshelves reaching from floor to ceiling. Each shelf was so jammed it would have been difficult to slide in a pamphlet, let alone another book. Perhaps it smelled musty and unclean in reality, but in my memory it smelled of paper and old books and even woodsmoke. A barbecue? I wondered. No. I could see there was an open fire in a room off the hallway. A fire in summertime!

Just before Uncle Lucas ushered my parents into what he jokingly called the withdrawing room, he turned and handed me the key of freedom.

“Go wherever you like, Ella. Touch whatever you want. Just try not to break anything.”

I took off. He barely had time to offer my parents a cup of tea before I was back.

“There’s someone in that room,” I said, pointing across the hallway.

“Male? Red hair? Glasses?”

I nodded.

“That’s Bill. One of my students.”

“Is this a school?” I asked. “Are you a teacher?”

“Two excellent questions, Ella. No, not exactly. And no, not exactly.”

My father explained it more later, on the way back to our hotel in a taxi. (My mother had complained so much about her feet that we’d given up the plan to go walking and sightseeing.) Lucas was the brainbox of the family, my father told me. Honors in history at Cambridge. Groundbreaking research since. He was working on a new academic study, but in the meantime, he’d also thrown open his house to bright but impoverished students to live and study in.

house?” my mother sniffed. “It should have been your house too.”

“His godfather left it to
, Meredith, not me, as I’ve told you a thousand times. And as I’ve also told you, I never wanted it, or needed it.”

“It’s not about needing it. It’s the
. It should have been divided between you. But no, you just let him have it. Because your problem is you’ll do anything to avoid confrontation.”

My father ignored her and looked out the window.

“It’s the
of it that gets me,” my mother continued. “He’s sitting on a real estate fortune, and what does he turn it into? A commune for pointy-heads.”

I hadn’t known any of this as I’d first walked around the house that morning. All I got was a little jolt of excitement each time I opened a door to discover a student in a room. There was one in the kitchen, one in the front room, two upstairs and one on a kind of balcony at the back of the house, overlooking a small, overgrown garden. I counted five students, male and female, all either reading or scribbling or, in one case, measuring out liquid from one glass jar into another in the bathroom. If my memory serves me right, that particular student went on to work for NASA. All of them pretty much ignored me.

“I’m Lucas’s niece,” I said each time.

“Hi, niece,” was about as interactive as one of them got.

I did as I’d been told and roamed everywhere, through all three stories. At the very top of the house I found the best room of all. It was a converted attic, with a sloping roof, bookshelves everywhere and a kind of alcove in the corner where I could see an unmade bed, a lamp and more books. On the floor, a pile of notebooks with Lucas’s name scrawled on the covers confirmed that this was his part of the house. In the center of the room, not pushed against the wall like my father’s desk was in our Melbourne home, was his desk. It was as large as a dining table. And it was—like the rest of the house—covered in stuff: bundles of paper, folders, boxes, books. And more books. Every surface in the room was covered in books. And in any of the gaps left, there were foxes. Dozens of foxes.

My full name back then was Arabella Louisa Fox. Mum and Dad were Meredith and Richard Fox. Which meant, of course, that my uncle was Lucas Fox. He must love his surname as much as I do, I remember thinking. I ignored the books and started counting the foxes. There were seven framed paintings of foxes on the sloping walls. Five little statues of foxes on top of the cupboards and tucked into the bookshelves. A fox pattern on a lampshade. What looked like a candleholder with a brass fox at the base. And on the desk, right at my eye level, was a real fox. A real baby fox.

There wasn’t much light in the attic. None of the lamps were on, and the overhead light was turned off. The only light came in through the roof window. It seemed to shine directly on the golden brown fur of the baby fox, highlighting the glorious reds of its tail, sending a spotlight onto its little face and a gleam into its small, bright eyes. Eyes that were looking right at me.

“It’s all right,” I remember saying, edging toward it. “I won’t hurt you.”

I reached out and patted it gingerly, waiting for the snap of teeth, even while I hoped for a kind of purring sound. Did foxes purr? I wondered. The second I touched it, I knew that it wasn’t real. Or at least, it
real, it had been alive, but it wasn’t anymore. Its head was cold and still. Its back cold and hard. I ran my fingers along the fur. Several strands came off. I looked into its eyes. And whether it was because I was tired, or because my mum and dad fighting had left me jittery as it always did, I don’t know; suddenly that small dead fox on the desk made me sadder than I had ever been in my life.

“You poor little thing,” I whispered to it. “You shouldn’t be here.”

There was a piece of material on the floor, a length of curtain or an old dust sheet. I picked it up. I wrapped the baby fox in it. I put the bundle under my arm. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with it, or how I’d slip out of the house without my parents and uncle noticing. It was summer and I was in a light dress, so I couldn’t even hide it under my coat. But I just remember feeling so protective and so sad, all at once. I was on a mission now. I was Ella Fox, Fox Rescuer.

I heard raised voices as I came down the stairs. My mother, then my father asking her to please mind her own business, then Lucas saying something I couldn’t hear, then my mother again. I’d thought this was a friendly visit. Perhaps it had started that way. I didn’t stand there, as I often did at home, eavesdropping. I slipped out through the front door. I wasn’t running away, not really. I think I only wanted to give the little fox some fresh air, a brief taste of freedom.

But Uncle Lucas didn’t know that as he looked out the front window. All he saw was his seven-year-old niece heading down his steps with a fabric-wrapped bundle under her left arm, the tail of a fox sticking out of it.

Afterward, Mum told me they’d thought it was very funny.

“You certainly broke the tension, Ella,” she’d said.

Lucas appeared at the front door just as I reached the bottom step. “Ella?” I stopped at the sudden sound of his voice, low and calm. “Are you stealing my fox?”

“No, not exactly,” I said, unconsciously echoing his own words from earlier.

“No? Then what, exactly?”

“It looked lonely up there,” I said. “I was taking it for a walk.”

My father appeared beside his brother. “It’s dead, Ella. It’s a stuffed fox.”

“It looked lonely,” I repeated.

“Inside, Ella. Now,” my mother said, appearing at Lucas’s other side. “Give Lucas back his fox.”

There was no more fuss made than that. In retrospect, they probably wanted to get back to their argument. I returned the fox to its home in the attic and patted it good-bye. I was about to kiss its little snout too, but then I caught sight of its tiny sharp teeth. I still felt sorry for it, but it had also started to give me the creeps.

We said good-bye to Uncle Lucas soon after.

“Well, that was pointless,” I remember my mother saying as our taxi pulled away.

“What was pointless?” I asked.

“Never mind,” my parents said as one.

I thought they meant Lucas was pointless, and I didn’t think that was nice. “I liked him,” I said, turning to gaze out the window, more wedding-cake houses on one side, the big park on the other. “Him and his foxes.”

A month later, back home in Australia, I’d received a parcel in the mail, postmarked Paddington, London. Inside was a letter from Uncle Lucas, complete with a footnote.

My dear FLN*

I’m so sorry I couldn’t let you keep the fox that day. It’s very precious to me. But I hope this little one will give you some pleasure. It’s also a bit easier to smuggle out of people’s houses.

Love from your London uncle,

*Fox-Liberating Niece


It was a tiny gold fox on a key ring, just an inch long, but beautifully made, the detail of the fur and the fox’s features delicately done. I called it Foxy. Foxy the Fox. At first I carried it in my pocket as a good-luck charm, whispering to it whenever I was upset or if Mum told me off about something. Once I was old enough to have keys, it turned back into a key ring. Over the years, it had held keys for many houses, in different cities of Australia, in London and in Bath. The last time I had seen it was in Canberra nearly two years ago. I’d left it, with the apartment keys, on the kitchen table beside my farewell note to Aidan—


Change your thoughts.

Look forward.

It’s always easier said than done. I’ve tried everything in the past twenty months—snapping an elastic band around my wrist, inhaling essential oils, meditation. I tried concentrating on my surroundings now instead, a suggestion I’d recently read in a book on managing difficult memories.
Focus. Notice.
Distract. Observe.
I mentally listed everything I could see around me, forcing myself to take note of my surroundings, to be fully aware to where I was and what I was doing at this exact moment.

I was on the Heathrow Express. I had just flown twenty-two hours from Australia to London. My handbag was on my lap. The seat in front of me had a blue fabric cover. The carriage was packed with fellow travelers, some with eyes shut, others yawning, each of us recovering from our flights in different ways. I looked over at the luggage rack, checking whether my red case was still there. It was. I stared up at the small TV screen on the far wall of the carriage. It flickered from the news headlines to a weather update. The forecast for London was a cold, breezy February day. The ticket collector appeared beside me. Good, another distraction. I handed my ticket across, watched him briskly stamp it and then move on to the next passenger. I turned back to the TV. “We are now approaching London Paddington,” a bright English-accented presenter announced on-screen. “Thank you for traveling with Heathrow Express.”

I’d arranged to visit Lucas at two p.m., the earliest I thought I’d be able to make my way from Heathrow to his house. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d seen him since the day of the fox liberation, of course. The letter he’d sent with Foxy was also just the first of hundreds—literally hundreds—of letters, faxes and e-mail messages he’d sent me in the years since. From the moment we’d met, without either of us realizing it, Lucas had become the most reliable adult in my life.

Three months after that first visit to London, my mother and father told me they were getting divorced. Irreconcilable differences. I’d had to learn how to say and spell
. It was a nasty divorce. They’d fought through their marriage and they fought through their divorce: over the division of their assets, over who got the house and who got me. After legal action that lasted more than a year, Mum won most of it, our small house in East Melbourne and me included. The last time I saw Dad was the day he came to tell me that he’d been offered a job in Canada and had decided to take it.

BOOK: The House of Memories
8.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The King Of Hel by Grace Draven
Raven (Kindred #1) by Scarlett Finn
Time Eternal by Lily Worthington
Arranged by Wolf, Sara
Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
Rescuing Rory by N.J. Walters