“The house keeps us safe,” she says. “There’s nothing left for us outside.”
Esther is safe in the house. For sixteen years, she and her mother have lived off the grid, protected from the dangers of the outside world. For sixteen years, Esther has never seen another single soul.
Today there’s a man outside the house. A man who knows Esther’s name, and who proves that her mother’s claims about the outside world are false. A man who is telling Esther that she’s been living a lie.
Is her mother keeping Esther safe – or keeping her prisoner?
Following a severe asthma attack that nearly killed her when she was five years old, Esther has been living in a ‘prepper’-style bunker in the middle of nowhere, with her mother Hannah. How they arrived there forms quite a large part of the story, but as it progresses, we realise that Hannah has become obsessive over Esther’s safety to the point where Esther has not left the House for sixteen years. Because ‘What keeps us safe? – the House.’
According to ‘Mother’, Esther’s father was killed in an explosion at the steelworks where he was employed, and Out There ie where the rest of us live, is too dangerous for Esther. Her only friend is a stuffed velvet whale called Mr Wiffles who speaks to Esther, apart from her inhaler of course.
Then one day, just as Esther has turned twenty-one, everything changes. It starts with a bird that has injured itself and Esther wants to help it. But Mother just flings the bird away, not even checking to see if it’s dead and Esther sees another side to the only person she has known since she was five.
And then a young man turns up and he knows her name. Who is he and what does he want? Why is he telling her that everything she has been led to believe about Out There is a lie. But the man is caught in a bear trap and needs her help.
I loved this story SO MUCH. I can’t begin to tell you how much I adored it. Poor Esther, but also poor Hannah, whose obsession has gone beyond what is normal (if obsession is ever normal) and tipped her into a kind of madness. She’s only trying to protect her daughter, but in saving her life, she’s denied her a family and a normal childhood.
This is one of my favourite books of the year.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.
About the Author
Louise Mumford was born and lives in South Wales. From a young age, she loved books and dancing, but hated having to go to sleep, convinced that she might miss out on something interesting happening in the world whilst she dozed – much to her mother’s frustration! Insomnia has been a part of her life ever since.
She studied English Literature at university and graduated with first-class honours. As a teacher, she tried to pass on her love of reading to her students (and discovered that the secret to successful teaching is… stickers! She is aware that that is, essentially, bribery.)
In the summer of 2019, Louise experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment: she was discovered as a new writer by her publisher at the Primadonna Festival. Everything has been a bit of a whirlwind since then.
Louise lives in Cardiff with her husband and spends her time trying to get down on paper all the marvellous and frightening things that happen in her head.