The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

The Two Houses sit grey and brooding beneath a pale sky.

– Opening sentence

The Two Houses begins as a ghost story; the tale of one house forcibly split into two in an effort to rid the supposed ghost of the woman who died there.

However, as the novel progresses, you realise that the ‘ghosts’ in The Two Houses are that of the mind; emotional; a collection of dark memories and hushed secrets kept by the living.

Jay, an artist, and Simon, an architect, are a successful married couple living in London.  The book begins with Jays breakdown over her inability to have children. She’s not even sure she wanted to have children in the first place, but failure is an unfamiliar feeling to her, and robbed of the option to choose, she finds herself unable to get out of bed in the morning.

Simon, at a loss, recommends some space in the form of a weekend house, somewhere outside the bustling city, remote. Unconvinced, Jay allows herself to be dragged to viewings, and is the first one to be surprised when she finds herself drawn to a peculiar, run-down property on the top of a wild and desolate dale. Or rather, two properties.

Two Houses, as it is referred to by the locals, used to be one. But after the tragic deaths of a mother and child, the house was split into two on the orders of the widowed husband, who claimed the inside rooms – her rooms – were haunted.

What follows is an intense story combining past and present; the mystery of Two Houses and the struggles between Simon and Jay. The symbolism isn’t exactly subtle; the broken house a clear metaphor for a broken marriage, but author Cooper avoids the overuse of cliches and keeps the storyline and characters believable.

Some reviewers have negatively stated that they think the characters are too heavily based on outdated Northern/Southern stereotypes, and while this is a valid observation, I think that these contrasting elements are a key part of The Two Houses. The repeating theme throughout the book capitalises on duality; husband and wife, North and South, open and closed, right and wrong, etc.

I, myself, am one half in a relationship, and I found myself relating to some of the issues between Jay and Simon. Relationships are a series of constant actions and reactions between two people, and maintaining an equal balance of harmony can be difficult. I have come to understand why a relationship is often referred as “hard work” (although most people leave out the fact that it is the most rewarding kind).

I think that is why I bonded so intensely with The Two Houses, and with Jay in particular. I become very much invested in her storyline, and at one point had to put the book down before I could carry on, certain that she was going to experience heartache too close-to-home for me to bear.

The Two Houses is yet another book that is so much more than just words on paper; when I close my eyes I can clearly see the formidable stone structures of the two houses before me, and feel the bitter crash of the wind across my face.

That probably says something about my own ‘ghosts’.

To hold on to flesh, not bone, and stand in front of the two houses made one as the fields turn amber in the violet dusk.

– Final sentence

4 Stars (4 / 5)


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