I always find the dynamics of family relationships in fiction really fascinating. How writers grapple with the complexities of love, rivalries and resentments very often makes for compelling reads. This was certainly the case with Colleen Hubbard’s novel ‘Housebreaking.’ Set during a harsh winter in New England, we follow Del a young woman ostracised by her wider family after her parents’ scandalous divorce. Leaving the small town in which she grew up she rather aimlessly drifts through life taking on odd jobs and seemingly caring about nothing.
Del resides with her father’s friend Tym who eventually asks her to leave for his boyfriend Marcus to move in. At the same time Del’s Uncle Chuck gets in contact, making her aware that the family home back in the small town she grew up in has been left to her, despite him owning the land around it. Uncle Chuck wants to buy Del out in order for him to build a housing development and to continue to make vast amounts of money. The novel then follows Del’s decision to dismantle the house and place it, in its entirety on a piece of marsh land visible to the new properties.
The destruction of the home and the dismantling of the family items allows the writer to explore wider issues of grief and loneliness. It seems unfathomable that an individual would do this rather than just take the money but despite Del’s dogged determination to be alone in her pursuit, a number of characters reach out and support her in her endeavour with touching consequences.
Prior to reading this book, I had read Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and it struck me that even though both texts are exploring loneliness, Hubbard’s character exploration felt much more realistic and visceral. We are made to question the validity of Del’s decisions and perhaps even feel frustrated with her constant refusal to engage in social etiquette and unwillingness to accept aid particularly from her family. However ‘people should be held to a higher standard than nice…Del’s was the sort of standard that made you cut worthless people out of your life and avoid frauds, assholes and cowards.’ Despite this being somewhat nihilistic, there is an admirable veracity to Del’s unwillingness to accept help allowing her family members to appease their guilt after ostracising her for so long.
Touchingly, over the course of the novel, Del does meet and begin to form relationships with people and the writer does show us that ultimately human connection is important and restorative. Notably, the relationships she has with Tym and Billy, a local supermarket worker offer a sense of renewal and restoration for Del, very much in contrast to the devastation and destruction of her old family home. The juxtaposition is cleverly done and the novel ends on a note of hopeful optimism. It is beautifully written and evocative, foregrounding universal human conditions and the power of togetherness.
Thank you so much to Clare @yearsofreading and @corsairbooks for my gifted copy. I will be recommending it to everyone.