Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: 24 March 2020 (ePub/audiobook), 12 November 2020 (paperback)
I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for OPEN HOUSE by Jane Christmas, organised by the lovely Rhoda Hardie. You may have noticed that I don’t often feature non-fiction on the blog, however I do love the occasional memoir and this one fascinates me because whilst I love looking at houses (I’m a Rightmove addict!), unlike Jane, I wouldn’t have the confidence to plan or undertake any significant renovations. My first flat was a renovation project, but I’m prepared to admit that other than a bit of painting and wall paper removal, my parents really did most of the ‘big’ jobs. Maybe it’s something I would consider in the future, when I have a bit more time on my hands.
Anyway, I’m sure you’re keen to read more about the book…
About the Book
Jane’s reflections on her 32 house moves explore what ‘home’ really means to us today, with themes including restlessness, parenting, friendship, marriage breakdown, xenophobia, rape trauma, and more.
‘I love moving house. I love the search for a new house, the packing up and the subsequent assessment and decluttering of all that I am, when old and new face off in a fight to survive the charity shop box. I love planning a new space, designing and styling the interior, thumbing through stacks of paints and fabric swatches. I love the ruminating, the budgeting, the logistical organisation… I love the pulse-quickening chaos of the move, the settling in and discerning if, finally, this is the right place. The words ‘in need of improvement’ are click bait to me. Buying a home has never frightened me or kept me awake at night; buying a car, yes; perhaps an item of clothing; but never a house… I have sat on the sofa in a home I have just moved into and immediately started swiping left and right on Rightmove.’ Jane Christmas
Studies have consistently reported that moving is one of the most stressful life events. On average, Britons move house 3 times in their lives, Canadians move house 7 times in their lives, and Americans move house 11 times in their lives. At the age of 63, Jane Christmas has moved house an incredible 32 times! She admits to being a ‘serial adulterer’ when it comes to homes. ‘To some people, 32 house moves looks like recklessness; to me, 32 moves looks like life,’ she writes in her new book Open House. ‘Houses and renovations and moving are an addiction to me; I desperately want to settle, but as hard as I try, I just can’t.’
By the age of 9, Jane had lived in 3 different houses and attended 5 different schools. Her mother was the driving force behind the constant uprooting. ‘People are important but they will not get you ahead in life,’ she told Jane. ‘Only property can do that. Property first, people second.’ Open House explores Jane’s childhood as a ‘property nomad’ and how this pattern continued into her adult life. She reflects on marital homes, homes where she has lived as a single parent with her children, and most recently, on her search for the elusive ‘perfect home’ with her third husband – ‘a creature of routine and stability’ who lived in the same 2 bedroom flat in London for 25 years before he met Jane. After viewing 60 potential homes, Jane describes how she and her husband succumb to emotional fatigue and buy an overpriced house in Bristol in dire ‘need of improvement’, which requires more money to renovate than they can afford and that neither of them really even like. As Jane’s nightmare renovation begins, memories of her past resurface – a strict and peripatetic childhood, lost friends, rape trauma, divorces, suicide attempts – and threaten to shake the foundations of her marriage. As she contemplates her life and her many homes along the way, ultimately Jane realises that our loved ones are ‘the vital joists that underpin our lives’. Hilarious, moving and thought-provoking, Open House: A Life in Thirty-two Moves wanders through the front door for a peek into the places we call home.
When my husband and I moved from my flat into our first house, he felt homesick for a number of weeks. This is despite the fact that we were desperate to move and the fact that our new home was so much nicer and roomier. He kept saying that it felt as though he was trespassing in someone else’s home. Fortunately he quickly got used to his new surroundings, helped largely by a lot of Ikea visits and a new kitten. With that in mind, and considering how many times the author has moved house, I asked her to tell us when, to her, a new home starts to feel like home. Jane has kindly provided the guest post below in answer to my query.
When does a new home feel like home?
In addition to my confession that I’ve moved 32 times, I have another one: I settle into a home instantly. Like, the moment my chattels are in the door. I don’t why that is: There is never an adjustment phase, or a period of tip-toeing around to get a “feel” for the joint. Nothing like that. I get the pulse of a place during the viewing stage and that’s when I decide whether I’m putting in an offer or not.
The only time that hasn’t happened, when that instant feeling had not washed over me, was in the home I’m in now. It took a while.
Truth be told, neither my husband nor I were given much time for “feelings”: The housing market in Bristol in 2017 was hotter than hot. Properties sold faster than we could view them. This happened half a dozen times. If we wanted a house we had to act super fast. One day, an agent called to say that a property she had dangled in front of us for weeks, a property she figured was our cuppa, was now on the market and we could see it that afternoon. We raced over. She had built up the place so much for us that we practically had our chequebook out ready to sign, sight unseen. When we walked in the front door, our mouths dropped. It was so dreary, so unloved, so not the delicious home of our dreams! There wasn’t one redeeming quality to it except that it was standing and had no signs of damp. I can see past the state of any place—as I make quite clear in Open House: A Life in Thirty-two Moves, I love a fixer-upper—but even so, with this one we expected more. That sense of disappointment dogged us throughout the purchase, the renovation, and long after moving day.
Once the renovations were done and our bank account was duly depleted the house looked great, yet even then, after myriad decisions, work, and dough that went into it we couldn’t quite get over the fact that we had wanted something nicer, bigger, smarter-looking. Over and over we repeated the same grumpy phrase to one another: “It doesn’t feel like home.” It did not help that the movers had been unable to fit our beautiful sofa, only a few years old, through the front door. It’s amazing how a favourite piece of furniture anchors not just your décor but your relationship. Without it, we felt unmoored and aggrieved.
A few weeks before Christmas, our new sofa arrived. It wasn’t nearly as lovely as our old one, but it fit through the front door. We set up the sofa, my husband lit the new wood-burner, then we turned on Pointless, and sat down. Something ignited in that moment because as the flames flickered and warmed the room, we turned to one another and said, “Now. Now it feels like home.”
So, what is it? What makes a house feel like home? It might be acceptance. It might be maturity. If this pandemic has taught us anything it is gratitude—for who we have and what we have.
Believe it, or not, my husband and I are still in the same home. For the first time in many years, I’m not in a rush to move. When we are at home we enjoy how the light warms different rooms at different times of the day; when we are away from home, we wonder how the garden must be looking, or what little job needs to be tackled once we get back.
Homes grow on you. Just as they need time to settle into the landscape once they’ve been built, so too do we need time to settle into the particular matrix of stone, mortar, and spirit that permeates that home. This house has taken its time with us, and we with it, but sometimes that’s the way it is when it comes to forging mutual appreciation.
Thanks to Rhoda for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Jane for the fantastic guest post, and congratulations to Jane on yesterday’s paperback publication day!
The book is already out and available to buy at various retailers including:
About the Author
Jane Christmas is the author of several bestselling books, including Incontinent on the Continent and And Then There Were Nuns. Born and raised in Toronto, Jane moved to the UK in 2012. She has lived in Walthamstow, Brixham and Longwell Green, and now lives in Bristol with her husband.
Why not follow the rest of the blog tour, details below: