Joint winner of the 2016 Prime Ministers Award for fiction. The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards celebrate outstanding literary talent in Australia and the valuable contribution Australian literature and history makes to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.
The Life of Houses is the new novel by the acclaimed poet Lisa Gorton, whose first book of poetry, Press Release, won the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry, and whose second collection, Hotel Hyperion, was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal.
The Life of Houses explores, with a poet’s eye for detail, the hidden tensions in an old established Australian family that has lived for generations in a large house in a coastal town in south-eastern Australia. These tensions come to the surface when the granddaughter Kit is sent by her mother to spend a holiday with her grandparents, and the unmarried aunt who looks after them, in their old and decaying house by the sea. Kit barely knows them, because her mother is estranged from the family and never talks to or visits them. Recently divorced from Kit’s father, she sends her daughter to her parents now so she can pursue an affair with her new lover. Kit’s presence brings the old quarrels to life as family memories take hold of the present, brought to a flashpoint by the anger and resentment of Kit and her mother, and the dementia and sudden illness of her grandparents. The Life of Houses is written in an extraordinarily expressive and dynamic prose that makes use of the close focus and the oblique perspectives that Gorton has mastered so successfully in her poetry. It is a style reminiscent of Henry James and Patrick White, a high style, perfectly suited to the social decorum and inhibition of her socially elevated but unhappy subjects.
A sample chapter is available here.
Readings group notes can be downloaded from here.