Building a House for the Soul

A man comes shellshocked from the trenches at Passchendaele, leaves his wealthy Boston family to travel across the continent, ending up on an island outside Vancouver, building his house and restoring his health. Then, his house goes up in flame and he disappears. A letter to his brother some few years later suggests he is alive, but after that, there is only silence. 

Seventy years later, his great-niece follows in his footsteps, after a sojourn at a mental hospital, following a terrible accident where she is severely injured and which takes the lives of her husband and youngest daugher. She brings with her a tent, lumber, and goes cold turkey on her medicines. 

The symbolically named Rae Newborn faces her demons, both imaginary and real, and at the same time she solves the mystery surrounding her great-uncle´s disappearance. Building her house becomes (of course) a metafor for healing, and bit by bit she opens up and is drawn in to the community around her. The novel is "Folly" by Laurie R King, and it´s the most Jungian novel I think I have ever read. In Jungian symbolism, the house is a symbol for the Self, and Desmond´s and Rae´s house has two stone towers, one for each of them. Those of you who have read Jung´s memoars know that he built his own tower. Clues come to Rae in dreams, and she and the reader is given the chance to see beyond the obvious, but both of us (she and this particular reader) are pretty surprised when the reckoning comes.

The book is a thriller, a suspense drama, but also a very good portayal of a woman psychologically frail, and an excellent depiction of what it can be like to have a selfish, manipulative person as part of your family. And one thing that I think King does so well: she can really do happy, harmonious relationships, great friendships and love affairs, without making them boring and too-good-to-be-true. King does not turn away from the shit that happens, she often returns to the trauma of war, particularly the Great War, but she also recognizes that there is profound goodness in the world, that there are many people out there who work in silence and without reward for the good of others. I recognize all of it in my own personal life, and it feels reassuring to read someone who has that same experience. 

Sometimes, in the way she ties it all together, she reminds me a bit of Reginald Hill, but she gives her characters an emotional depth that he never manages to do. Ok, so "Folly" will not give her the Nobel Prize, but you know, this story, and these characters, will stay with me a long time. If I had been younger, I might have taken up carpentry, just like Rae Newborn. 

Do read it.

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