‘Nothing is quite what it seems in this carefully crafted, perfectly paced debut’ – In My House by Alex Hourston

imhahAlex Hourston’s debut novel In My House appears to be about middle-aged Maggie helping a young Albanian woman escape her traffickers, but it’s not. Well, it is, but it’s so much more.

Maggie has an unremarkable life of routine. Divorced long ago and estranged from her married daughter, she lives alone. Her only friends are the people she meets when she takes her dog to the park. She works from home and takes two walking holidays a year, one at home in the UK and the other abroad. A moment of drama occurs when she arrives back at Gatwick from her foreign trip, and 19-year-old Anja uses Maggie’s help to get away from the man trafficking her into the country for prostitution. What will Maggie do? Will she escape with Anja and go on the run, using her medical transcriptionist skills to escape the Albanian mafia? No. The airport police handle the situation expertly, and Maggie goes back to her life.

The newspapers then harass Maggie for a while, but not seriously. A few people recognise her from the media exposure, and her dog-walking friends are excited to hear the story, but that passes after a day our two and Maggie continues her ordinary life. Even when a police liaison officer asks if she wants to meet the now asylum-seeking Anja, very little changes for Maggie. She employs Anja to clean her house for a few hours a week while the asylum process is on-going. Even then the only transformations are a dust-free home and a more efficient filing system for her emails.

And yet this novel is no tedious exploration of how a middle-aged woman’s life could have changed but didn’t. Even the ordinary here is compelling. In elegantly detailed descriptions of Maggie’s day, Alex Hourston lures the reader into her character’s life through Maggie’s slightly disapproving tone, her stark view of the people around her and how she gently manipulates them. It’s so easy to get caught up in Maggie’s voice that you don’t realise how much Hourston is manipulating you. She continually deceives the reader into thinking this is one kind of story, only to steadily and carefully reveal it to be another. This looks like a story of an unlikely heroine saving another woman from a difficult situation. And it is, but neither the heroine nor the victim are who they appear to be.

Any Cop?: Nothing is quite what it seems in this carefully crafted, perfectly paced debut. Here’s hoping that Alex Hourston turns out to be a very prolific writer.

Jim Dempsey


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