- Non Fiction
My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster
List Price: £4.99
Kindle Edition: 272 Pages.
Published: 06 November 2014 by Vintage Digital
‘I was born on May 25, 1938, in the front bedroom of a house in Orton Road, on the outer edges of Raffles, a council estate. I was a lucky girl.’
So begins Margaret Forster’s journey through the houses she’s lived in, from that sparkling new council house, built as part of a utopian vision by Carlisle City Council, to her beloved London house of today, via Oxford, Hampstead, the Lake District and a spell in the Mediterranean.
This is not a book about bricks and mortar, or about how a house becomes a home with the right scatter of cushions.
This is a book about what houses are to us, the effect they have on the way we live our lives. It is also a wonderful backwards glace at the changing nature of our accommodation: from blacking grates and outside privies; to cities dominated by bedsits and lodgings; to houses today being converted back into single dwellings, all open-plan spaces and bringing the outside in.
Finally, it is a gently insistent, personal inquiry into the meaning of home.
by Debra Found
Fascinating Autobiography/Social History
Margaret Forster looks back on her life and how it related to the houses that she lived in. She looks at how they shaped her as a person and affected her life at the time. This is a most unusual way of writing an autobiographical book and says as much about the social and class systems during her life as it does about the author's life itself. Beginning in a council estate in Carlisle Margaret Forster is very open about how she became a bit of a snob, aspiring to the large detatched houses of her Grammar school mates and not bringing friends back to her home. As we progress through the years, including some holiday interludes, the author's idea of a house develops. A house develops into a family home taking on different roles as the children progress and then becomes a sanctuary in time of need.
Margaret Forster writes very readable non-fiction books and this is no exception. Although we are reading about her life we can also see the changes in the social structure of the country as time goes by. Travelling back to her childhood house (no longer owned by her family) was very revealling about how times have changed.
There are some wonderful anecdotes about the people whose houses she lodges in as a student as well as neighbours and people who rent from herself and her husband Hunter.
This is a light & easy book to read with more depth than is first apparent. I think it would be interesting to look back on my homes - what did they mean to me at the time, how did they shape my life? If you enjoy this book can I suggest you also try Margaret Forster's "Hidden Lives" which tells the story of 3 generations of women in her family.
Clever and absorbing
I have been a fan of Margaret Forster's writing for many years and read most of her books, especially the non-fiction. This book, therefore, as a semi-autobiographical volume, does contain some information and anecdotes about the author's life that I had previously read. I didn't really have a problem with that as there is plenty of new material and also as it becomes obvious as the book progresses that she will not be writing a standard autobiography.
The author tells her life story around the basis of the houses in which she has lived. The houses don't just provide a background for her life but also each reflect something that the author wishes to say about class and social aspiration. We see her first house and then share with her in the huge change as they moved into an up to date council house. We then share in her experiences of renting in London and her tales of fellow lodgers together with an interlude in a Malta and a holiday home in Britain. The author feels that houses are important to people and reflect more than just their disposable income so she shares how these houses became home and what made them important to her.
This book is written in a light-hearted and anecdotal way but it is the story of the life of a working class girl made good and how that is reflected in where she lives. I thought that the anecdotes of her life were enlightening (especially that of the Beatles who visited her home after her husband had written a biography of them). There are lots of fascinating details about life in Carlisle and London since the war mixed in with the personal stories.
Having read this narrative I am now reviewing my own life in the same way - it's an interesting and revealing way of looking at things.