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A House for Alice: From the Women’s Prize shortlisted author of Ordinary People

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A House for Alice is the acclaimed follow-up, for which she was again shortlisted for the Orwell Prize.

A House for Alice is a story told in lyrical prose of love, loss, and the loneliness of people struggling to find a home/a place where they belong. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel, the Guardian First Book, the Commonwealth Best First Book and the Times/South Bank Show Breakthrough awards, and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. I should mention, I was unaware that this story was a sequel ( of sorts ) to one of the author’s previous works. And Avril and Blake feature as the young in peril in the middle distance - with different outcomes despite their parents’ hopes. I love when I think I can predict what a character will think/do next and they surprise me with a thought or viewpoint that I didn’t expect from them.Diana Evans “Ordinary People” was Women’s Prize shortlisted in 2019 – it was a book where I had mixed feelings, largely due to my lack of identification with main characters who preferred Brixton to Box Hill and considered the death of Michael Jackson an epochal event, and I also struggled with the tell-not-show lengthy description of everyday life. I highly recommend this novel to everyone, as it offers a powerful and timely exploration of the human experience.

The story is set in 2017 and incorporates the real-life tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in West London in the narrative and explores socio-political themes and topics like immigration, culture and racism. This is a book about love, life, interconnectedness, marriage, childhood and so many more relationships. A House for Alice touches on so many themes: a dysfunctional family and family trauma, the challenges of marriage and its failure, racism, the refugee experience, the love for a child, failing a child, failing oneself, the view from old age.I loved Diana Evans' use of language in A House for Alice, her use of adjectives to communicate the complicated nature of feelings: "he’d thought it pretentious, earnest, western, sanctimonious, selfish, self-important, impractical, pseudo-buddhist and yogic, but now he could see her logic" (p. Cornelius Pitt, a man in his '90s, dies alone in a fire sparked by a cigarette left burning in an ashtray in his home the same night that 72 people die in a fire at Grenfell Tower apartments. Alice went quickly to her freezer, her city of ice, the chicken in reserve, the random renditions of rice (puddings, jollof).

Yet he still wonders if he will ever know anyone the way he knew Melissa, and she in turn is nostalgic for their once safe haven. Each character here is richly and deeply drawn, with histories and personalities so fully realized that it’s a pleasure to get to know them…This is a novel that encourages us to stand in life’s burning doorways, and to think long before we walk away or walk through. Now that Cornelius has died, Alice is wondering if her time to leave England has arrived, despite her children’s disapproval.Sprawling but always engaging, the novel’s cast is filled with rounded individuals, their problems and options as Black, middle-class Londoners showcased at work and play and contemplation, with humor and empathy. Alice's longing for her homeland and her desire to spend her final years in Benin adds a poignant layer to the narrative.

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