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Heather Lewis novel House Rules was first published in 1995, and then republished in 2005, with a new afterword, which is the copy that I read. Although it cant be known for sure, I would say that this was only published again in this way because of the authors personal life. She killed herself in 2002.
House Rules tells the story of 15-year old Lee, who at the start of the novel has just been expelled from boarding school. The way that Lee tells us this makes it sound as though she was not really to blame for the incident that resulted in her having to leave, however in the following pages we witness her let a complete stranger on a plane that she finds almost repulsive perform a sexual act upon her. These two contradictory accounts of her personality almost set the tone for the rest of the book; Lee is a very confused young girl, one who has obviously been scarred by events in her past, and is just trying to find a place where she can fit in. We learn that Lees father was abusive to her, and so to escape from this she decides to join the horse-show circuit rather than going home. Although she has met some of the characters in this environment before, it is now that she becomes truly embroiled in their lifestyles, entering into a world of violent sex and heroin as the blurb of the novel so brashly tells us. As Lee sinks deeper and deeper into this world we see her become less and less in control of herself, and finds it harder and harder to even know what it is she wants for herself. As their lives get more intense, we are left wondering whether Lee will even make it to the end of the novel alive.
Although this book is a work of fiction, one cannot help but wonder about the connections to Lewis life. She was very familiar with the horse-show circuit that her character becomes a part of, and it is easy to suggest that the fact that she killed herself at only 40 clearly shows that the author had issues to work through that she may have revealed through her novels. Is it impossible to see Lewis in Lee?
House Rules is clearly a well-written book; with comprehensive language and meticulous attention to detail. However, I personally found that the often harsh content overshadowed this. I said above, that Lee becomes involved in a world of violent sex and drug use, and this, more often than not, made me wince and have to skim over the details. I dont think it was the fact that the author was writing about sex that bothered me, but the fact that this young naïve girl was so blatantly in pain did. As well-written as Lewis work is, I couldnt bare to read it, and, like I said, ended up skimming over a lot of paragraphs.
As much as I could appreciate this novel as beautiful, intricate writing, I just couldnt read about the subject matter without wishing I had got to the end already. I originally bought this because I had seen it as book of the week in Time Out, and have seen numerous reviews praising its brilliance without a doubt, this book is critically acclaimed. However, I think that you can find a book good but not accessible to you. I wouldnt necessarily not recommend this book to other people, but I definitely wont be reading it again.
You can currently by this book new from Amazon.co.uk for £6.99.
Fifteen-year-old Lee has just been expelled from boarding school. Unwilling to go home to her abusive father, she escapes to the horse-show circuit and begins an affair with a beautiful but dangerous rider named Tory Markham. Through Tory, she becomes involved with a disreputable team of brother and sister trainers: Carl, notorious for his ruthless training methods, and Linda, who keeps the stable - both the horses and the riders - doped on narcotics. Lee's descent into a web of violent sex and heroln addiction is depicted with hellishly vivid precision. First published in 1995, House Rules established Heather Lewis' reputation as a gifted and uncompromising writer.