Review: The Good House by Ann Leary

Title: The Good House

Author: Ann Leary

Published: Atlantic Books October 2013

Status: Read from November 08 to 10, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

“My first name is Hilda, which my children have always told me sounds like a witch’s name, but I’m called Hildy. I live alone; my daughters are grown up and my husband is no longer my husband. I talk to animals..some people think I have powers of intuition, psychic powers, which I don’t. I just know a few tricks…I tend to know everyone’s business…[and] I’m the top real-estate agent in a town whose main industries are antiques and real estate.” p5

This is how our narrator, fifty nine year old Hildy Good, introduces herself in The Good House. She seems like an ordinary woman, a lifelong resident of Wendover, Massachusetts, sipping a club soda with lime at a housewarming party, chatting cheerfully with other guests. She mentions in passing she is in “recovery”, and has recently returned from rehab after an intervention staged by her daughters, an over-reaction on their part she assures us. A few hours later Hildy is at home, finishing a bottle of wine from the stash she hides in the garage, before stripping off to skinny dip in the icy cold river at the bottom of her garden, laughing under the moonlight.

Related in the first person by Hildy, The Good House is a character driven novel, a story of small towns, family, love, deception and denial. It reveals tensions and prejudices, infidelity, elitism, and dysfunction but focuses on Hildy’s alcoholism and its effects on herself and others.

While we are inclined to trust Hildy’s observations about herself and others initially, we soon learn that she is an entirely unreliable narrator. In order to deny the truth of her alcohol addiction, Hildy’s perspective on her family, friends and the community is slightly warped. She claims her daughters are ungrateful, prone to exaggerating the effects of her drinking, she fails to recognise the instability of newcomer Rebecca, too relieved to find someone she can drink with who won’t pass judgement, and imagines the concern of her lifelong friend, psychiatrist Peter Newbold, to be for sinister reasons of his own. Few will find Hildy a wholly likeable character, but I thought Leary portrayed her in a compassionate manner. Hildy is a supportive mother, a doting grandmother, and an intelligent, successful woman but her addiction is all consuming and everything she is, is tainted by alcohol. As Hildy continues to drinking heavily she begins to suffer blackouts and hallucinations but is convinced she is still in control, her secret safe, until the coincidence of a damaged fender and a missing child shatters her illusions.

There is little action in the novel, with the suspense largely stemming from Hildy’s gradual slide to ‘rock bottom’, still I found the narrative compelling. Leary’s depiction of alcoholism is subtle rather than sensational, foregoing high drama for a realistic exploration of what addiction looks like amongst a demographic ignored by the media. The supporting characters and some of the minor subplots orbit around Hildy, never really having a life of their own, but add interest to the story.

The Good House is an interesting, poignant and surprisingly witty portrayal of a woman’s struggle with alcohol addiction and I found it both engaging and entertaining.

FYI, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro have signed to star in the screen adaption, and I will be eager to see the film when it is released.

Available to purchase from

Allen & Unwin I BoomerangBooks I Booktopia I Amazon AU

Amazon US I Amazon UK I BookDepository

US Cover

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mystica
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 22:45:26

    I do so like Hildy’s self description. So nice and intriguing.

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  2. laurelrainsnow
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 02:24:02

    Yes, the “gradual slide to ‘rock bottom'” is such a great reveal of how the disease often progresses….and I loved how it was done. Sometimes I almost believed Hildy…but not quite. She is definitely very cunning. And seeing Meryl Streep portray her should be a treat. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Kimberly (@TurninThePages)
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 19:26:24

    This isn’t my usual type of read but your review really does have me curious about it. I hope my library gets a copy of it.

    Kimberly @ Turning the Pages

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  4. stacybuckeye
    Nov 23, 2013 @ 14:21:22

    This is the first review that actually has me excited about this one. I was ho-hum on her first book.

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  5. Teddyree
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 12:43:44

    Great review, very keen to read this one. Sounds quite similar to Amy Hatvany’s Best Kept Secret, which I loved.

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