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The Skeleton House

The Skeleton House

Author: Katherine Allum

Publisher: Fremantle Press

Published: June 2024

Winner of the 2023 Fogarty Literary Award, The Skeleton House by Katherine Allum is an impressive debut truly worthy of its award-winning status.

Inspired by real regional towns in the American Southwest, Allum’s novel observes a life on the margins of a devoutly Mormon town. The main character, Meg, confronts her inner turmoil of portraying the ‘perfect’ wife and mother while remaining true to herself. The underlying misogyny of the community coupled with a controlling and manipulative husband reveals a shaky marriage that frays under stress as Meg struggles to defy both gender norms and religious expectations.

A standout quote that perfectly encapsulates the novel’s essence is from page 310:

‘It’s a house. Its skeleton insides are nowhere to be seen. But when I lightly wrap my knuckles against the wall, inch by inch, hollow, hollow, hollow, ah. Solid beneath the drywall and plaster. There’s a rib.’

Walls, typically silent witnesses, hold the echoes of all that has transpired within. The mention of the ‘rib’ and its ‘skeleton insides’ is a direct connection to anatomy, personifing the house and suggesting that it, much like a human body, has its own history and secrets hidden beneath its surface.

The novel includes a couple of intriguing Easter eggs that add layers of depth and interconnectivity to the story. For instance, the narrative begins and ends with chapters titled “The Helicopter,” creating a cyclical structure that invites readers to reflect on the journey the characters have undergone. The presence of the helicopter in the first chapter serves as an eerie foreshadowing, casting a shadow over the events that follow and hinting at deeper significance. The careful placement of such Easter eggs not only rewards attentive readers but also enriches the overall storytelling, providing a sense of cohesion and resonance that elevates the novel’s impact.

Allum’s work explores the sacrifices and compromises made in the name of love and duty. As the narrative progresses, Meg grapples with the delicate balance between her familial roles and her personal aspirations. The novel ultimately serves as a poignant reminder that even the most picture-perfect families have their own hidden struggles and unresolved conflicts, which shape their relationships and their identities.

Reading The Skeleton House is like swallowing a seed that settles deep in your gut, quietly germinating until it twists and unfurls and nestles within you, long after you’ve consumed it. I can’t wait to see what’s next from Allum.

 

Reviewed by Jess Checkland

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