The High House
by Jessie Greengrass
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 1 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 5 Oct 2021
'Brave, important and exquisitely written' Sigrid Nunez
Guardian, Independent and New Statesman most anticipated novels of 2021
Crisis slid from distant threat to imminent probability and we tuned it out like static
Francesca is Caro’s stepmother, and Pauly’s mother. A scientist, she can see what is going to happen.
The high house was once her holiday home; now looked after by locals Grandy and Sally, she has turned it into an ark, for when the time comes. The mill powers the generator; the orchard is carefully pruned; the greenhouse has all its glass intact. Almost a family, but not quite, they plant, store seed, and watch the weather carefully.
A stunning novel of the extraordinary and the everyday, The High House explores how we get used to change that once seemed unthinkable, how we place the needs of our families against the needs of others – and it asks us who, if we had to, we would save.
PRAISE FOR THE HIGH HOUSE
‘By the end I felt a tightening in my chest. Not only admiration for what I had read, but fear, which I had swallowed down, one calm and often beautiful sentence after another. The High House managed to shock my system in a way that the attention-grabbing antics of Extinction Rebellion have not done’ The Scotsman
‘I have no qualms in saying The High House is a must read’ Bookmunch
‘Full of elegant, resonant sentences about human fallibility, complacency, selfishness and our unquenchable capacity for love’ The Sunday Times
‘Greengrass steeps us deeply in her wild, watery setting … its prophetic vision fixes the attention’ Daily Mail
‘Will delight readers who relish the ambition and originality of her work, and leave them pondering its ideas about climate change, family, inequality and the ethical dilemmas that are posed by a crisis’ I Paper
‘A book suffused with the joy and fulfilment of raising a child. The High House stands out, for Greengrass understands that perhaps the best writers and artists can hope for no is to help us admit, accept and process our collective failure to act’ Guardian
‘Chillingly articulate’ The Telegraph
‘Greengrass uses a future post-apocalyptic world as a perspective from which to apply the melancholic, nostalgic air of Ian Sinclair, Rachel Lichtenstein or W G Sebald to our own present. You think you have time. And then, all at once, you don’t’ The Irish Times
‘The High House is an extraordinary, immersive read’ IMAGE
‘Greengrass has encapsulated the dignity of our individual actions and the true value of what we possess’ Lonesome Reader
PRAISE FOR JESSIE GREENGRASS::
'Greengrass is undoutedly that rare thing, a genuinely new and assured voice in prose. Her work is precise, properly moving, quirky and heartfelt' AL Kennedy
'An extremely thoughtful and meticulous writer' Sunday Times
'She has a Mantel-esque way with metaphor, in which clarity of the image illuminates plot and theme' Daily Telegraph
'A writer who clearly has considerable gifts' Financial Times
'A distinctive new voice in fiction' Independent
'Remarkable and affecting' Literary Review
Average rating from 39 members
I was immediately gripped by this book and finished it in two sittings. Essentially a book about the impact of dramatic climate change on what becomes a loosely thrown-together family. It’s deeply affecting without ever feeling overdone or improbable. I was particularly struck by the emotional complexity of the characters, who could easily have been one-dimensional in the hands of a less adept writer. A beguiling story, perfect for now.
'The High House' quietly destroyed me, because it portrays an oncoming future that I already believe in.
That aside, this is an incredibly unique piece of climate fiction. I've never quite come across one like it - the way it focuses on the liminal space between our present, and the dystopic, climate-broken future that inevitably awaits us.
I am often frustrated by lack of plot in literary fiction, and perhaps one could level that charge at 'The High House', because I suppose it doesn't follow usual conventions. But I found such beauty and poignancy in all the little moments described, in the characters' relationships. In one way, it feels like a braid of short stories, which is perhaps in part due to the short length of most chapters (some pages only contain a single paragraph).
There is nothing else to say, except that I was gripped, and I was devastated.
(With thanks to Swift Press and NetGalley for this ebook in exchange for an honest review)
4.5 stars. This book is stunning. I mean that it will stun you, with its beautifully written descriptions of nature (some passages reminded me of the marsh's descriptions in Where the Crawdads Sing) but it will also stun you with dread. It is a story of survival, but not in an action-y, fast-paced, detailed way. It is reflective and centered around one specific family. The story is told through the eyes of three narrators: Sally, who grew up in a coastal village with her grandad, who she calls Grandy; Caro (daughter of "father" who will remain nameless and step-daughter of Francesca - I'll come back to her in a minute) and to a lesser extent, Pauly, Francesca's son who is being cared for by Caro. They have all taken refuge in an isolated house on a hill (The High House) which has been stocked by the aforementioned father and Francesca.
I personally really, really enjoyed this book, I devoured it. But... it is a tough read because of its subject matter. Francesca as a scientist, knows that the planet is doomed, as no one seems to be willing to accept the cold hard facts about the climate crisis. Yet even she chooses to have a child, then works tirelessly to prepare this cocoon where they will be able to "weather the storm".
What I loved:
- The language used, which was a mix of simple dialogues and descriptions, with specific language related to birds and the sea. I looked a few words up out of curiosity (but not doing so would not prevent you from enjoying the book and understanding the plot!) Some examples: sluice, awl, gorse, limpet, pantiled, shingle spit, crofting, winceyette, chancel, bittern, curlew, dunlin...
- The overarching theme of the climate crisis. I have read a few non-fiction book about global heating, but I find myself craving representations of it in fiction. Dystopian stories often don't develop this angle - I particularly enjoyed how the seasons were being described.
- Grandy's character. I loved every single line written about him.
- Pauly and his questions and behaviour as a boy - some passages were pretty funny!
Some tiny tweaks would have made it a definite 5-star read for me:
- The timeline was sometime confusing for me, narrators recalling events from previous years a bit randomly, so much so that I sometimes had to reread some sentences and look for some clues to see if the passage was a flashback or not. In hindsight, this was probably intentional to add to the ominous, claustrophobic effect...
- A couple of the characters' narrative voices were a bit too similar.
- I did not really understand why the dad remained nameless, and why Caro had so much resentment towards Francesca. Both parents could (should?) have been more fleshed out.
- I found the book too short! I wanted to know more about the kind of life they had in the house... I won't go into any more detail as I want to keep this review spoiler free.
In a nutshell: this is a sad and beautiful book about an anxiety-inducing topic. An important read. I am grateful to @lovemyread for including this book in my April box. After ordering it, I was also given a free copy by Net Galley and Swift Press in exchange for an honest review.
Bizarrely enjoyable bearing in mind the end of the world subject matter. The author has an assured and soothing way with words, so even when the sea in surging through seawalls I was comforted by the prose. I am obviously in a different frame of mind from this time last year when in the first weeks of COVID I read a book about climate change and disaster, and felt it was all too much. Now it is almost reassuring to hear of our old friend global warming and flooding.
The characters and relationships between them make this book. The brusque stepmother, realising that the end is nigh, builds a sanctuary for her son and step daughter. She was fairly unlikeable until you realise what she was up to, whilst the prickly step daughter manages to come good, even though she is right on the edge of holding it together.
A good read.
I thought this was a stunningly beautiful book, told in spare, affecting prose. The subject matter is depressing and thought-provoking (and might not be everyone's choice of a good read right now!) but it was handled really well with a few lovely, well-drawn characters.
I often think novels are too long, but this was was the opposite and I was definitely left wanting more!
I very much enjoyed a previous novel by Jessie Greengrass so The High House was high on my reading wishlist and I was not disappointed. Believable characters and deft writing.
The High House by Jessie Greengrass is a poetic and purposeful novel. An intimate story of a coming apocalypse and a family forged in the midst of destruction and devastation. It follows Francesca, a scientist who has predicted and planned for the rising water. Stepmother to Caro and mum to baby Pauly she has restored a refuge for her children known as the High House. An ark, a safe island that has been cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter Sally. This is a deeply moving and resonant novel that explores the urgent crisis of climate change through the theme of family, inequality, love and sacrifice. As the characters attempt to raise a child in this new narrowed and destroyed environment you find yourself asking how would you choose to live? Who or what would you save? A beautiful and bold debut I look forward to reading more from this author.
A brilliant book that speaks to the heart. Every adult should have to read this. Not preaching yet it drives home the point that we need to save our planet. Full of hope, love and the drive to live. I loved every single page.
What to say about this book except it totally gripped me. It's probably the best fiction book I've read about climate change.. It's left me horrified, I don't want a future like that for my Grandchildren. Everyone should read this book and we should all do our utmost to stop this story from becoming our reality!
Thanks to NetGalley and the author for the opportunity to read this book.
Caro is the daughter and step daughter of two climate scientists. Her father sticks to his research whilst her Stepmother Francesca travels the world campaigning and advocating for the planet. When Francesca gives birth to Pauly she immediately returns to her campaigning and leaves Francesca to be the main caregiver of Pauly, even though Francesca is only a teenager herself.
Sally grows up in a beautiful coastal village with her Grandfather listening to stories about how the village has been changed by modern life and of past floods. Eventually when climate disaster strikes Caro, Pauly, Sally and her Grandfather all find sanctuary at The High House.
Although this compelling novel is about climate change and how our lives will have to adjust to a less hospitable world, at its heart it is actually about what we owe one another, our responsibilities to each other and how far they extend. Would Francesca have built the High House for Caro if Pauly hadn't been here. Francesca was trying to save the world but in the end could only save her son. Is that all any of us can do or are responsible for? How much should we risk to help our literal neighbours. What do we owe those in other countries? What responsibility do we have to future generations? All the characters in this book have to wrestle with some or all of these questions at different points.
This novel is so compelling and the characters are well drawn and complex. I felt this book was so honest about our limitations and how that makes tackling climate change such an uphill struggle. It was so impressive how the author wrote a book about a small group surviving climate change but at the same time got to the heart of humanities inaction to prevent it.
This is a short novel, made shorter by the format of separate sections within each block. It is a quick read with a powerful message - one that's too late, perhaps? Three main characters, all quite young and a couple of adults, one of which is backward thinking and one very forward thinking. Lots of lessons within this book about what might be coming our way in the not too distant future from climate change. I read this listening to apocalyptic rain in what has been a very wet summer and the setting was perfect - just adding to the strength of the message. It's a story about rivalry and survival too - but at what cost? I loved it. With thanks to NetGalley, the punlishers and the author for a copy of this book, post-publication, in exchange for an honest review.
A stunningly beautiful, heartbreaking tale of some of the last survivors in a not-too-distant world. Sal, Caro and Pauly live in the High House, a refuge against the worst effects of the floods and droughts that stalk a near-future England. They eke out an existence through raising chickens, growing vegetables and relying on the goods stored Yeats before by Pauly’s climate scientist mother.
This is a book where small, everyday events take on greater significance, elevating the ordinary - a trip to the beach, a Christmas Eve afternoon - to the sublime. The three survivors take turns at narrating the story as it is, moving from childhood memories to the present day. This makes for an extraordinarily poignant read, as we see all that they have lost in living as they do.
A book to encourage deep reflection on what we value in life and the damage being wrought on our natural world, this is highly recommended for all libraries.
Wow, this was an amazing novel. The High House is told from three people's perspectives, all of whom are living in the high house after what appears to be an environmental disaster. The narrative goes back and forth to the character's lives before the flood and after. The story focuses on themes of family relationships and climate change and our complicated relationship to it.
The first 5o or so pages when Caro describes what happens to her family leading up to the unravelling of the world's climate kept me completely hooked, it was so tense and sadly really plausible too. The way Greengrass writes about how people get used to things changing, and how so many stand back and let it happen is unnerving in its simplicity.
The novel is beautifully written, the descriptions of nature are so vivid. The love between the characters is palpable but the difficulties they have with each other are so realistically realised. You really care about these characters.
All in all a fantastic, challenging and atmospheric read.
The High House
This is not a happy book , a romance , a thriller , a comedy . This is a book that everyone should read.
It could well be a book about the future or lack of.
Thought provoking , emotional , terrifying , you feel for the 4 characters in The High House.
This should be a title everyone over the age of 14 should read.
It will stay with me for a long while.