This is a review of the 1996 book 'The Little House' by Philippa Gregory. I caught some of a dramatized version on TV so hunted out the book afterwards as I recalled enjoying the programme. This is not usually the order I do things in, I've usually read the book first! But a decent gap lapsed between the programme and reading the book so I didn't remember all of it.
A bit about
In the little house, Ruth and Patrick are living a happy life in their flat with a dutiful visit to Patrick's parent's rural farm each Sunday life is great. Then Ruth loses her job and Frederick and Elizabeth (the parents) buy 'the little house' which is situated on the edge of their farm land and the flat is sold so they can move in. Ruth's not entirely happy about this but then finds out she is pregnant so her mind is taken from this and really she is glad to have a roof over their heads. Elizabeth's tastes are imposed all over the new house, she really does take over and Ruth is torn between being grateful for all her input choosing curtains and carpets and has the odd ungrateful thoughts that she would have liked to choose the wallpaper herself really!
When the baby arrives, the birth is traumatic and Ruth has a few problems bonding with him. Patrick is useless so Elizabeth takes over and installs baby Thomas in Patrick's old nursery whilst Ruth rests and recouperates. Although the takeover is gradual at first, Ruth begins to see a more sinister side to it and she finds herself fighting for access to her son and then the story starts to get interesting...
I am a fan of Philippa Gregory's historical series, particular the Tudor one so I was expecting to enjoy this earlier writing from her. I found the writing dramatic and suggestive and really felt for Ruth's position whilst questioning Elizabeth's motivations and intentions. It is so clever though as you can actually see where the mother in law is trying to help. I swayed from actually liking and admiring her to seeing her cunning and scheming side. I think in the TV programme this was more exaggerated and easier to make out whereas in the book it was more subtle and a lot hinted at but not actually said out loud.
Patrick and Frederick are both irritating and largely useless doddering men in the book. Patrick is vain and self obsessed with his work and image and has little interest in his son, despite being the one who really wanted Ruth to have a baby in the first place when she wasn't really ready. Frederick is retired, interfering and old fashioned although generous with his money. Elizabeth is organised and knowledgeable about house work, child care, cooking and any other domestic subject. Ruth probably wouldn't have been her first choice as Patrick's wife but she accepts her in to the family without question. Ruth is a complex character whom we get to know quite well in the book. Her mousey side comes out very much at the start of the book and she accepts the family decision to take over Thomas's care without much fight.
I found this book to be really cleverly written, with a lot of psychological content. I really have tried hard not to give away too much in this review as I would like to recommend the book as something worth reading. There are a lot of twists and turns in the book (especially the one at the end) that you just don't see coming, it reminded me a lot of Dahl's writing in Tales of the Unexpected. Copies are very easy to get hold of this book as my copy was even given away years ago from 'Woman and Home'. A recommended read.
A real thriller!
I love this book just for exploring the hate/hate relationship between mother and daughter in laws that I can unfortunately relate too. I have the upmost sympathy for the main character...
Ruth our main character (hero to me!) is married to Patrick, living in the city, as a dedicated journalist, and doesnt want children, she's a career girl. However her husband encouraged by his strong willed, interfering mother are determined that she should have a baby - and soon, and so she does. On becoming pregnant, she starts on a downward spiral fuelled by her mother in law... loses her job, and goes to live in the little house at the foot of her in laws driveway (chosen by her mother in law and decorated by her too. Her mother in law can't get enough, push enough or just give Ruth a rest from interference. Soon enough she finds herself in danger of losing her husband, baby, and clinging onto her sanity to her mother in law.
Then she fights back... an absolute brilliant twist at the end which I love!
I picked up a copy of the Little House by Philippa Gregory recently. I am familiar with some of her other novels, particular her more famous historical fiction works like The Favoured Child and The Other Boleyn Girl. This particular book is sent in present times which makes a change for the author, though it is more focused on emotions than events as is Philippa Gregory's usual style.
The Little House tells the story of a young woman who finds herself sucked into her husband's world, against her better judgement. There's nothing amiss about her husband's world, it is just that it isn't the world she wants to live in. She has a career ahead of her, a town centre flat that she's really fond of and her life is jogging along nicely.
Unfortunately her rather persuasive and unwittingly domineering husband has other ideas. He is ready to start a family (that he naturally expects Ruth to tend to) and he wants to move to a country house near to his Parent's house that he has always been fond of. Ruth tries to protest to the move and big life changes but finds herself outnumbered. Ruth was orphaned as a child and the only family she has around her is her husband and his equally dominating parents.
Ruth tries her best to go along with what the rest of the family want, and has the best of intentions throughout. But it isn't long before she sinks into post-natal depression and finds that her new family really are not as fond of her as she previously assumed. They only care about their family, and Ruth will never truly be a part of that the same way her new baby is. That is why when her parenting skills are called into question, she finds it so hard to cope with the total abandonment her in-laws and even her husband inflict upon her.
I found this a really moving account right through until I came to the closing chapter. I cannot recall reading such a realistic fictitious account of post-natal depression before that I have been able to relate to so thoroughly. It is not pretentious and it does not include any absurdly unrealistic claims that Ruth would have deliberately harmed her child at any time as many fictitious accounts of post-natal depression appear to (causing harm is usually the result of post-natal psychosis which is extremely rare).
The only drawback to this otherwise amazing emotional journey is that the ending did not fit to me. All the way through the book, Ruth takes what everybody has to give her, and it is obvious that she is going to snap and stand up for herself in the end. But she does not really stand up for herself in my mind, despite that appearing to be the author's intention. I cannot say anymore than that without giving it all away unfortunately.
If you would like to buy this book, it costs £5.49 from Play.com or between £1 and £2 second hand from Alibris UK. I do not think it is the greatest book ever written because of the obscure ending, but it was certainly an amazingly accurate account of post-natal depression, right down to the story that explained what provoked Ruth to come down with it.
It is a book I would eagerly recommend to any new Mum who is feeling a bit down or indeed their partner. It is only a story, but it is easy to understand and an accurate portrayal of what post-natal depression is really like. It could well help someone to start to put their own puzzle pieces together to help them to move on and start enjoying motherhood on their own terms. it would certainly have helped me when I suffered with my first born.
As I have enjoyed a lot of historical fiction lately, I thought it was about time I gave the author Phillippa Gregory a try, as she is generally well regarded in this genre, for example The Other Boleyn Girl. What I didn't know, until reading this book, is that she also writes some modern fiction.
I believe the little house in the title could be thought of as a home or a prison. This would be dependent on the family member affected by it, and the place in the plot the reader is at.
Ruth and Patrick are both confident and good at the media work they do for different companies, but at home Patrick is very much the dominant personality. He was a spoilt child and continues to be greatly influenced by his parents, especially his mother, well into his married life.
Ruth, having been orphaned while still a child, at first welcomes being included into Patrick's family, but the comparison of her domestic skills to his mother's is increasingly demoralising. Ruth has a career though, something the mother-in-law never had.
Patrick wants a child before Ruth is ready to be a mum, but she gives in to him, and he gets his son and heir.
As an inexperienced mum, with in-laws who want things done their way, Ruth feels trapped, but knows she needs help learning how to care for the child. I will leave the reader to find out if the in-laws will ever give her the right kind of help, or make a good relationship between Ruth and Patrick impossible.
I can really relate to Ruth's situation as her life partly mirrors mine. (My education was geared up to finding lucrative work, so I didn't have much in the way of domestic skills when my baby was tiny. But as my home life was very different to Ruth's, my ways of eventually coping wouldn't have worked for her.)
The tension grows as more and more pressure is put onto Ruth. She eventually stops coping, but when she gets help from outside the family, she starts to fight back for the right to look after her own child. To continue the fight she has to go back to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the family, and it seemed to me that she would have to be superhumanly emotionally strong to stand a chance of coping with the in-laws and her husband's attitudes.
As the in-laws use the baby as a weapon to make Ruth comply to want they want, the psychological battle continues, with a double twist ending that surprised me. As I now admit to being pleased with the ending, I must have a sadistic side, but in mitigation, I will say that I would have preferred a more humane ending, if this had not been fiction.
The plot of some books I read is soon forgotten, or bears at least some similarities to others I have encountered, so that they blur together.
In contrast, I can't see me wanting to read this book again for a very long time. This is not because it is poor quality. On the contrary, I find it so haunting that the plot is likely to stay in my head indefinitely.
There is a small amount of violence in the book, which is something I wouldn't normally read about for enjoyment, but as I felt the descriptions were kept to the minimum necessary to give credence to the story, I won't censor myself from reading more books like this.
As the main characters are all flawed individuals (and who isn't?), I found them very plausible, and though not likeable, I enjoyed reading about them because I found them intriguing.
I haven't read any other books by Philippa Gregory yet, but I intend to now. Whether my next read of her books is from the sort of historical fiction that she is most famous for, mainly about the Tudors, or another one of her novels with a modern storyline, I haven't decided yet.
As this psychological thriller is very different from my usual reading diet of historical sagas or romantic comedy, it may well be the beginning of my expanding my reading horizons.
Men who want the benefits of a modern wife, but who think they can still live happily clinging to their mother's apron strings as well, should head the dire warnings in this book.
Since reading the book, I have seen the TV version of The Little House.
In my opinion, while the TV version was good, the novel is a lot better.
I hope it will be one of the best books I have ever read. That´s why I have rated it with 5 of 5 possible stars. I´ll let everyone knows in a couple of weeks!
The Little House by Philippa Gregory was a book that was recommended to me by a friend. It sounded good, so I bought it from Ebay and began it once I had finished the book I was reading at the time. I read The Little House in a few days, often in long sessions, but despite that, I wouldnt say I particularly enjoyed it.
The novel revolves around a woman called Ruth. Orphaned young, she is thrilled to be enveloped into her husband Patricks family, looking for the closeness she lost. Ruth and Patrick both work in the media, they live together in a flat in Bristol and every weekend, they visit Patricks parents, Elizabeth and Frederick, who live in a nice house near Bath.
Their lives seem to be going well and Ruth is happy, although the weekend visits are a bit of an endurance test at times. But then Elizabeth and Frederick begin to collude with their son to change things to their liking. The Little House a cottage very near to their home comes up for sale and they have a dream of Patrick and Ruth moving there and Ruth having a baby. Despite Ruths (fairly pathetic) protestations, things happen and they get their wish.
Ruths life becomes less how she wants it and soon she is doing everything they want her to, as she loses her independence, becoming the housewife and mother they want her to be. Baby Thomas is born and Ruth finds things difficult, suffering from post-natal depression. As the family rally round to help, Ruth is pushed further out of her sons life and soon she is left wondering if her presence is needed at all.
That is all I want to say about the plot really. Although it might sound like I have given away a lot of it, these things happen quickly in the book and the main interest is in the developing and changing relationships between the four main characters, so it is a book you need to read to really understand it.
The part that I found particularly annoying was that I didnt really like any of the characters. Ruth is so weak, its comical. I mean, there is no way I would put up with the things she has to. I would leave Patrick, taking my baby with me and be off into the night. Im still not sure why she doesnt. Okay, she loves him, but why? Patrick is a rather grey character compared to his parents. I felt he wasnt completely developed, he felt only partially there. Again, he is a weak character with little to endear him to the reader.
The domineering character of the book is his mother, Elizabeth. While she did remind me of a couple of mothers-in-law I have had, she is vile - critical, patronizing, bossy, over-confident, stubborn and a thoroughly nasty piece of work. Frederick, her husband, is painted as a slightly more sympathetic character initially, but his nasty streak soon shows itself and by halfway through, I hated them all!
Ruth does have a friend David but he makes a minimal impact and kind of disappears a lot, so he seems pretty superfluous really. I did hope she would see sense and run off with him, but then again, hes hardly ideal hubby material either, not feeling as fond of her when she is overweight and ill. I wonder if Philippa Gregory actually knows any nice, honest, good people. She certainly doesnt show us any here.
I kept reading because I wanted Ruth to get revenge, to stand up for herself, to prove she could be a good wife and mother. Im not revealing what happened, but there is some kind of pay-off, although I didnt feel it was as good as it could have been.
While I was reading The Little House, I became increasingly angry and frustrated. That Ruth would put up with such horrible people just irritated me. I found the book uncomfortable reading because of this. I found very little pleasure in it and hating every character certainly didnt help.
Im not saying it is a bad book, as it isnt. The pace is good, the tension is certainly there and most of the characters are believable and well-described, especially Elizabeth. I wanted to read on and at times, it was impossible to put down. But overall, my overriding impression of it is my anger and annoyance at so many aspects of the story, that I am not sure if I would read another of her books. Staying angry for over three hundred pages is hard work!
This book is an absorbing cross between family saga and psychological thriller. I thought it was brilliant and found myself mentally cheering on the heroine as she tries to deal with the ultimate interfering mother in law from hell. The story is centred on the relationship between Ruth Cleay and her mother in law Elizabeth, which becomes increasingly fraught. Ruth suffers from post natal depression after the birth of Thomas. Elizabeth subtly, discreetly with seeming concern for her daughter in law hijacks the role that Ruth has partially vacated. Elizabeth was always the perfect wife and mother who kept a sparkling house, handed her husband a welcoming drink when he came in from work and didn't bother him with the more mundane aspect of child rearing. Ruth cooks pre prepared meals, misses bits when cleaning the kitchen and expects husband Patrick to get his own breakfast. In short she doesn't measure up in the senior Cleary's perfect world. Also they have never quite let go off their son and are glad to have him back in their daily lives, whilst being delighted to be surrogate parents to their grandson. Ruth finds herself tolerated in a domestic set up that is not of her making. Isolated she tries to get control of her life back from her in laws with explosive consequences. I wasn't keen on the twist at the end, it seemed a bit unbelievable. Overall, a disturbing look at what can go wrong with relationships in even the most conventional, genteel middle English families.
This is a explosive chiller by a brilliant writer called philippa gregory. The book is about a hard working woman called ruth.Ruth is married to elizabeths son steven. Elizabeth loves her son but poor ruth just is not good enough in elizabeths eyes no matter how hard she tries. Ruth has no say in her marriage or where she would like to live. Ruth moves house right on the door step of the mother in law,she becomes pregnant and after the new baby is born she becomes depressed through the isolation and being lonely whilst steven is at work. The mother in law from hell says ruth cannot look after her baby and steven and elizabeth send ruth away to a hospital,they say it is to make her better but elizabeth wants to take the baby away from ruth and says that her son should not be tied to a sick woman for the rest of his life. Poor ruth battles through and gets her life sorted.She breaks free from a woman who hates her and a husband who needs his mummys permission to even breath. This book has been written of very high standard.Its one of those books that you just cant put down.I found this book very life like and found myself getting very angry with the mother in law. No one deserves this treatment and I am sure that there are many people out there who feel for ruth and also maybe in a situation like this. I really enjoyed this book and all that it had to throw at me.