4 out of 4 stars
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I've lived in numerous homes, but two have held special meaning for me: the childhood home I grew up in until my late teens and the first home I moved into as an adult. While I can't say for certain both are true for Louise, the lead character of Thea Ramsay's A Very Special House, she certainly loved her family home in Maui. Unfortunately, life isn't a fairy tale, and while the home was spectacular, life in it wasn't.
A Very Special House tells Louise's story through conversations with her psychiatrist (who she aptly nicknamed Dr. Glasses) and Louise's memories. Her memories often spill forth in daydreams and nightmares, where she sees the events of her past through rose-colored glasses before being reminded of the horrors of her past.
If the last decade of movies and television have taught me anything, it's that one of my favorite themes in media is questioning reality. Movies like Memento and TV shows like Legion and Maniac have a way of showing the viewer something, then peeling back "reality" to reveal what's really true. A Very Special House does this to an extent too, but it uses a far more ordinary life: the life of a woman who married an abusive man in addition to drifting apart from her children. There's no mystery to solve, no shifty drug trial to survive, and there certainly isn't a tug-of-war with a powerful psychic being trapped in her mind, yet Thea manages to make Louise's struggle feel just as tense and even terrifying at moments. Not being able to fully trust what one is seeing is unsettling, and Thea knows it.
Even with all of that said, if I were forced to recommend A Very Special House for only a single reason, it would easily be how evocative the author's writing is. She brings the senses to life with her words in a way that few books ever have. I felt the Maui soil between my fingers just as much as I felt Louise's tears run down her cheek or the sting of slaps upon soft, undeserving faces. Most of all, I felt absolutely consumed by the dread of reliving Louise's past and her powerlessness during her psychoses. Her surrender to her circumstances is likely never better captured than by this quote - "The awareness of being alone surrounded me like a wall. I could see it, touch it, bump into it. The one thing I couldn’t do was make it go away." - and I was able to relate to it far too well due to my own depressive episodes.
As far as negatives are concerned, I did find two minor grammatical errors. I also took a while to appreciate the ending; I wasn't a fan of a big part of it initially, but the more thought I gave it, the more I enjoyed it. Saying anything more at all would spoil it, and that would be a terrible shame. My rating of Thea Ramsay's A Very Special House is 4 out of 4 stars. I can't recommend it enough for people who have been in a bad relationship or have faced even the most common mental or emotional challenges (like depression), as well as people who enjoy the mystery of a relatable life revealed, who love having their senses captured via writing, and who enjoy stories about the way our minds work. There is no sex in the book, and the language used would've given the movie version of the book a PG-13 rating. As such, I can see people in their mid-to-late teens enjoying it as well, and its short length (around 60 pages) doesn't hurt either.
A Very Special House
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