A sensitive and nuanced exploration of how ‘good’ people find themselves in terrible situations.
Length: 380 pages
Published by Pan MacMillan on 1 March, 2015
What the back cover says:
Dr Quinn Davidson and his wife Marianna have endured years of unsuccessful IVF and several miscarriages, and Quinn can’t face another painful attempt to conceive. Marianna is desperate to be a mother and their marriage is feeling the strain.
At a small-town practice a few hours from their home, Quinn meets Rachel, the daughter of one of his patients. Drawn to each other, it’s not long before they find themselves in a passionate affair and Quinn realises he must choose between the two women.
Then Marianna announces a surprise natural conception, news that will change the course of all their lives.
What I say:
From time to time you hear about it – the man who led the double life, who had two families, two wives, two houses.
If you’re anything like me, your first thought is – ‘What a bastard! What a conman!’
But life is never that simple, and what Sarah Armstrong invites us to do in His Other House, is to understand how seemingly ‘good’ people can end up in bad situations.
Quinn Davidson is, ostensibly, a decent man – a caring doctor who makes some terrible decisions in his personal life. ‘He was dismayed how readily he took to lying. He’d always thought of it as a decisive abandonment of the truth. Instead, he realised, it was simply a matter of one word slipping into the place of another.’
The novel promotes the idea that morality is never a fixed compass. It is buoy without anchor that floats with the current, tossed about by uncertainty, instinct and context. All of these characters have a sense of what is ‘right’ but the fallout from the decisions they make reveal that one’s conscience is an imperfect guide.
Yet still, we feel for them.
Armstrong provides close and intimate access to the interior lives of her main characters. We understand how they think and feel. While we may disagree with the decisions they make, we are never in doubt as to the thought (or lack thereof) that went into them.
‘As she walked past him to the door, he reached out his hand, as if in slow motion, and took hold of her forearm. In that moment it was very straightforward: he wanted her more than he wanted to be a faithful husband.’
The setting is evocatively drawn and a strong sense of place permeates the work, particularly the writing around ‘Corimbi’ the fictional town where much of the action takes place.
Rachel unpegged the sheet from the Hills Hoist and pressed the cotton to her cheek. The damp twilight fell around her as the crickets started up their rasping. How many hundreds of times had her mother taken sheets off this line for Rachel’s bed? This was motherhood, she thought. Countless small, domestic acts of love.’
I left this book with an overwhelming sense of sadness, but also a renewed commitment to mindfulness with the understanding that the trajectory of life is not determined by a set of major, key moments and decisions, but by the spaces in between – the small, almost unconscious acts that reveal who we truly are.