Like a tide, slowly inching back to reveal its quirky, thinly concealed treasures, ‘The House at the Edge of the World’ tantalises readers with the inner-workings of a dysfunctional family, exposed by one fateful night and laced with historical and mythical narratives.
Despite its slow start, thanks to our unlikely protagonist, the detached Morwenna Venton, the gently twisting plot descends into a gripping suspense as we both attempt to sort fiction from reality: how did her father come to fall off ‘the edge of the world’?
Gliding between awkward juxtapositions of Valerie and John’s unsuccessful marriage, and the isolating closeness of their twin children, Morwenna and Corwin, this family’s world is anchored by their home in Devon and their reclusive grandfather, Matthew. Locked within the confines of Matthew’s painting of a family map, reaching only 10 miles beyond their house, which is grounded by its clutter of historical objects, each of the Ventons is trapped.
As the twins prepare to flee the nest, their father is prematurely released from the pressures of family life when he falls off a cliff. Morwenna’s blunt narration is scathing: “It was a stupid way to die.” Yet, as the novel meanders ever closer to the mouth of the mystery surrounding that fateful night, this so-called stupidity is called into question.
‘The House at the Edge of the World’ is a lonely tale, leaving its readers to ponder the weight of history upon the shoulders of the present. Love and compassion are distributed extremely unevenly, producing a cluster of romantic characters, and the sense that there is not enough to go around.
Each character’s quest for freedom – through travel, nature, love, art and control – is hinged on the events surrounding John Venton’s fall. As the narrative unravels and they venture closer to the truth, Morwenna closes her grip on reality. The completed story is symbolic, written and bound by her hand, she frees herself and her family from the narrative.
As Julia Rochester’s debut novel, ‘The House at the Edge of the World’ offers readers a unique and darkly funny mystery, towing them through an education on human behaviour. Once you get stuck into her world, it will be almost impossible to leave without confronting the make-up of our familial bonds.