It is my dearest wish, that after so long apart, I am able to bring this family together for my wedding day.
This house. This family.
Mary has raised a family in this house. Watched her children play and laugh and bicker in this house. Today she is getting married in this house, with all her family in attendance.
The wedding celebrations have brought fractured family together for the first time in years: there’s Phoebe and her husband Michael, children in tow. The young and sensitive Rosie, with her new partner. Irene, Mary’s ex-mother-in-law. Even Emma, Mary’s eldest, is back for the wedding – despite being at odds with everyone else.
Set over the course of an English summer’s day but punctuated with memories from the past forty years of love and loss, hope and joy, heartbreak and grief, this is the story of a family. Told by a chorus of characters, it is an exploration of the small moments that bring us to where we are, the changes that are brought about by time, and what, despite everything, stays the same.
Many thanks to the publisher and to the Squadpod for providing me with an early copy in exchange for an honest review. I was a huge fan of Kate Sawyer’s debut, The Stranding, so I was really excited to get my hands on this one! It did not disappoint!
I’m a sucker for a sprawling family drama where secrets gradually come to light and the changing dynamics of the years play out before our eyes, Cazalet Chronicles style, and there is definitely a hint of Elizabeth Jane Howard here. But it’s combined with the claustrophobic heat of Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange, and the stylistic verve of an Ian McEwan novel. Compressing the present tense focus to one single day, in one setting, is a brilliant way of building tension, as we see everyone gathering in at the same time as flashbacks reveal the cracks and ruptures of the past. It’s a very clever novel, and I’m beginning to suspect Kate Sawyer’s literary career is going to be strewn with well-deserved prizes.
The characters are complex and rounded, their shared past full of the kind of morally ambiguous choices that will divide readers’ opinions. I really felt I got to know each member of the family – what is really clever is the way that, at the start, the relationships between them aren’t entirely clear – it’s almost confusing, and at first I thought, oh I wish there was a family tree or something to help me sort this out, but then I realised that what this does is drop the reader right into the group, an outsider trying to figure out the connections and dynamics in the same way as we would if we met these people in real life. It’s actually genius, as it’s a natural way of getting to know the characters, and avoids the kind of exposition that can take a reader out of the moment.
The house, the willow tree, the preparations for the meal and celebration – everything is described in vivid, fresh detail, and it’s easy to picture the scenes unfolding on the page. The writing in This Family is so subtle and skilful, and the revelations, when they come, feel earned and real. There are moments of tension that held me in thrall, and tender moments, too, pulsing with emotion. I won’t give away anything about the ending, except to say that it feels exactly right.
This is a deeply intelligent, beautifully written book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I love how different it is from her debut – both novels are brilliant, but in such different ways. I can’t wait to see what’s next from Kate Sawyer.
This Family by Kate Sawyer is published by Coronet and is available to preorder here.