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Review: Yesterdays Houses by Mavis Cheek

yesterdays houses Review: Yesterdays Houses by Mavis Cheek

Marianne let him in with a bright smile, quite forgetting that she was wearing an old apron. For a moment after she opened the door, this seemed not to matter. Normans face was lit from within by a wonderful light of lust and from without by at least two glasses of red wine.

bathroom Review: Yesterdays Houses by Mavis Cheek

Mavis Cheek is an established British author of thoughtful and witty womens fiction. And its fiction thats sure to surprise. After having read a few pages of Yesterday's Houses, I did spend a few moments wondering whether Jane Austen could possibly have discovered time travel. Cheek has a perfectly fitting name for the sort of fiction that she writes: its whimsical, pert, and at time ascerbic.

Yesterday's Houses follows the life, and eventual transformation, of Marianne Flowers as she moves through the different houses that characterise the various stages of her life. When we first meet Marianne, shes a young girl rather randomly attending a party to which she was invited after a passing conversation with a young man. It is here that she meets her first husband, Charles, whom she believes is alluring and liberated. The two eventually get married, and so begins Mariannes house hopping.

Charles, it turns out, is actually rather far from being the liberated type, and although Marianne slowly begins to acknowledge this, she does very little about it, allowing herself to be dragged through myriad humiliating social situations and myriad houses with atrocious bathrooms (it seems that our Mariannes sole goal in life is to live in a house with a lovely bathroom). While Charles is increasingly an unlikeable, pathetic character, Marianne often does surprisingly little to endear herself to the reader. While she had her moments during this early stage of the book, it was difficult not to snap that she get rid of him and get on with it.

Eventually she does, partly due to Charless having a rather vulgar affair with Marrianes best friend, and in part due to Charless feminist mother, who argues that Marianne need not simply accept her lot in life. With this, Marianne sets off to enrol in university and feed a new-found love of books. Until, of course, she meets another man and falls quite in love with him. Similarly as with Charles, the alarm bells begin to ring immediately, and it is to the readers complete frustration that Marianne decides to settle down with this boorish would-be artiste whose fragile ego suffers every time Marianne makes any sort of suggestion, let alone any effort towards self-improvement.

At this point, Marianne embarks upon a literary career that her husband regards with a sort of rank dismayparticularly when she experiences some success at it. Eventually, she leaves the dolt, and moves into yet another house. And meets yet another foolish man.

While Yesterday's Houses is for the most part a wittily written and clever book, it is difficult not to become frustrated by the character of Marianne. I had to keep reminding myself that she was a woman of a particular time, but fortunately, I think, not of my time. Even so, watching Marianne attempt to better herself time and time again, yet defer so completely and incessantly to these ridiculous men she allowed to traipse all over her as though they were poor-mannered tradesmen trekking in mud from the front yard, is a teeth-gritting endeavour at best.

Overall, I enjoyed Yesterday's Houses, but the book does suffer from a structure that invites repetition, and from a main character whose indecision and apparently willing lack of agency does slow things down a little, making for a sometimes frustrating read.

 Review: Yesterdays Houses by Mavis Cheek

Purchase Yesterday's Houses.

Other books by Mavis Cheek you might like: Amenable Women; The Sex Life of My Aunt; Aunt Margarets Lover; Mrs Fyttons Country Life

Acknowledgements: bathroom image by Gregory Szarkiewicz, courtesy of
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