In Alison Moore’s prize winning novella, a woman returns to the pre-war house in which she grew up to empty and close up the place following the death of her father. The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks sparked by objects and spaces she encounters as she works alone to clear the place, each memory building on the revelations of the last, drawing the reader into the emotionally turbulent and eventually tragic events of the narrator’s childhood.
The Pre-War House is full of deft and revealing descriptions of the house and the items being packed, the simplicity of the language creating a real sense of the house and the emotional resonance of each of the items while refusing to draw attention to itself. This is writing that is powerful in its starkness. Lines like ‘I turn on the tap, and the house trembles’ shake the reader as much as the protagonist, while the set dressing of family life, clocks, lawns, fridges, telephones, knitting and notebooks, all become weighted with meaning.
As objects are packed away and rooms are emptied, the story of the novella opens out to reveal the narrator’s adult understanding of events that as a child she struggled to fully grasp. Moore controls the pace and power of these revelations through her shaping of structure and descriptive prose, the resulting story leading the reader through both the house of the present and the family turmoil in its past.
It should come as no surprise that The Pre-War House is a controlled and powerful piece of prose fiction, coming as it does from an author whose debut novel features on the recently released Man Booker 2012 longlist. It was awarded 1st prize in the novella category of The New Writer Prose & Poetry Prizes 2009 and published in The Collection, July 2010.
Alison Moore’s Booker longlisted novel The Lighthouse is published this month by Salt Publishing. I eagerly await the arrival of my pre-ordered copy.
Update: The Pre-War House is now published as part of Alison Moore’s debut collection of short fiction, The Pre-War House and other stories.