14 October 2010

The House of Onion

We may have mentioned the House in which we work. Yes, the House we may have mentioned it.

We talk of it so often not only because we spend so much time here, but because we are fond of it. And calling it 'the House' is no idle boast. It really is a big old Victorian terrace house, long since divided into office space but retaining a rambling, ramshackle and, if we're completely honest, slightly run-down feeling.*

If anyone ever wrote a story about the Onions, the house itself would have to feature.

There's the Harry Potter cupboard under the stairs, the sinks that crop up all over the place, often in unexpected places (such as a cupboard, but not the one under the stairs), and the leftover signage from previous tenants. (Ecumenical Affairs Commission, anyone?) There is the satisfyingly wild square metre of earth and pretty weeds in the parking lot, the rickety old wooden fire escape and the very purple carpet.

And there is the odd fact that the bottom floor is always freezing - even in the very middle of a hot summer day when everyone upstairs is sweltering.

Perhaps somebody ought to set a mystery novel here. If only we knew any good writers...

Herewith, a list of other Houses that are characters in their own right.

Misselthwaite Manor -
The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
When Mary Lennox first steps into the great hall of Misselthwaite, it is impossibly huge, cold and unfriendly and she is small, sallow and spoiled. A place of a thousand rooms and most of them shut-up and locked, Misselthwaite gradually comes to life with the garden, the servants, the master of the house, and all. The day Mary spends exploring the many rooms, finding the nest of mice and the little ivory elephants is one of my favourite passages in the book.

Samarkand -
Secret Scribbled Notebooks and My Candlelight Novel by Joanne Horniman
Kate and Sophie, our heroines, were adopted by Lil who runs a shabby old guesthouse that squats by the river in Lismore. Samarkand is a crumbling two-storey weatherboard on stumps, and sees a thin procession of odd guests, but there's something magical and otherworldly about it.

I first met Sophie in My Candlelight Novel, where she's twenty-one and has a baby called Hetty, with whom she lies indolently in various of Samarkand's many dim green balconied rooms, reading novel after novel. There's a sense that Sophie can stay sheltered in Samarkand dreaming and reminiscing and writing letters to her sister Kate forever; indeed, every year the house is isolated from the world, like a big ship, when the river floods. It sounds like just the thing - and it's a real place. Wonder if there are any vacancies?

The Professor's House -
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
It is the start of World War II and the Pevensie children are evacuated to the country house of Professor Kirke (or Digory, as we are later, well... earlier really, to know him). It is big and old and easy to get lost in. And, of course, it contains a certain wardrobe... Who doesn't long for a house that's really properly big enough to play hide-and-seek? And who, on finding themselves actually IN such a house, hasn't checked the backs of the wardrobes? Just in case.

Windermere -
Mostly Sunny by Marion Roberts
Initially Sunny is not convinced it's a good idea to leave her childhood home (with the awesome kitchen shed out the back especially built for tall people) to move into the huge mansion on the river left to her family by Granny Carmelene. After all, there is the room full of scary portraits with following eyes. But Windermere proves to be a house with a lot of potential - and a turret bedroom worth fighting for. There is room to romp, and space to Be Sustainable. There is a grumpy gardener and there may even be a ghost...

Manderley -
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
None of us have read Rebecca since high school, but none of us forget (do we?) the house shrouded in Cornwall fog, with its creepy opulence, grand staircase (scene of many a drama, including the fabulous disastrous frock incident) and priceless-but-eminently-breakable ornaments. The whole place is as good as owned by the sinister and not-quite-human Mrs Danvers, with Maxim de Winter hiding in the firelit library or generally unavailable physically and emotionally, and the poor gauche newlywed narrator without a name or much of a backbone is pretty much uncomfortable and inept everywhere. Of course, Manderley is one big shrine to the impossibly glamorous Rebecca, who is somehow undiminished by any revelations; her ghost is never going anywhere...

The Museum of Dunt -
The Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner
Not quite a house but definitely a home - to the Keepers and a lot else besides, not all of it ... nice. Rather like the old Melbourne Museum before it moved to its clean and modern (and rather boring) current quarters, you never know what you might encounter around a dark and dusty corner: a preserved snake in a jar, a giant whale, a Brizzlehound**. The Museum of Dunt moves and breathes; its mood is unreliable; it likes to be sung to; and it's never the same two days in a row. It keeps the city safe, but it harbours dark and dangerous things. Venture past the Dirty Gate at your peril!

Green Gables - The Anne books (up until Anne's House of Dreams) by LM Montgomery

We'll let LM Montgomery do this bit herself:
Anne wakened on the morning of her wedding day to find the sunshine winking in at the window of the little porch gable and a September breeze frolicking with her curtains.
"I'm so glad the sun will shine on me," she thought happily.

She recalled the first morning she had wakened in that little porch room, when the sunshine had crept in on her through the blossom- drift of the old Snow Queen. That had not been a happy wakening, for it brought with it the bitter disappointment of the preceding night. But since then the little room had been endeared and consecrated by years of happy childhood dreams and maiden visions. To it she had come back joyfully after all her absences; at its window she had knelt through that night of bitter agony when she believed Gilbert dying, and by it she had sat in speechless happiness the night of her betrothal. Many vigils of joy and some of sorrow had been kept there; and today she must leave it forever. Henceforth it would be hers no more; fifteen-year-old Dora was to inherit it when she had gone. Nor did Anne wish it otherwise; the little room was sacred to youth and girlhood--to the past that was to close today before the chapter of wifehood opened.
-- from Anne's House of Dreams

And of course we couldn't mention houses in literature without thinking of the blackened ruins of Thornfield Hall or pining a little for Pemberley. Oh Pemberley.

Which literary houses do you love? Where do you long to live? And where would you not set foot if you were paid?

* This must be the reason we feel so comfortable lying on the floor here. Much of our best editorial thoughts are had while lying on the floor.
**Okay so we never saw a Brizzlehound in the Melbourne Museum, not even in the dungeons with the stuffed items.


A latte beckons said...

I nominate Green Knowe (which is also a real house) and its ghostly inhabitants. The last book in the series, The Stones of Green Knowe, is set in Norman times when the house is actually being built - just beautiful and evocative, it sent shivers up my spine.

Also the Gone-Away Lake books by Elizabeth Enright, where the children discover a whole village of lost houses taken over by a swamp, a treasure-trove of abandoned possessions.

The Alien Onions said...

Kate - ooo Green Knowe. You're so right! I must re-read.
I don't know the Gone-Away lake books at all. Sounds highly intriguing.


A latte beckons said...

Oh, Gone-Away Lake is brilliant! Three kids on holiday stumble into a swamp and find all these silted-up, abandoned old houses which used to be holiday homes around a lake back at the turn of the century (it's the 50s now), and there are an elderly brother and sister who spent their ancient holidays there, now living in the ruins and using (recycling) the stuff from the old houses. The swamp itself is treacherous, so they have to deal with physical danger, history, reusing old materials for new purposes -- it's very enviro, now I think about it. Eventually the kids' families reclaim the houses and end up living there, but the early part of the books, where it's all mysterious and spooky, is fantastic. I can lend if you like.

Here endeth the rave.

Anonymous said...

I love Elizabeth Enright, and she did such excellent house! There was also the Melendy's Four-Storey Mistake with its cupola and orchard, both good for dreaming in...

miss elise said...

There was one in my childhood called 'The House that Sailed Away' and it was just s-o-o cool because... their house... it SAILED AWAY! Like a boat! Many a subsequent adventure was had.

I would very very much like to have rented a room in James's Giant Peach for a stint, too. Um, maybe not too close to the big spider, though.