Review: The High House - Jessie Greengrass
Genre: Literary fiction, Climate fiction
Published: Swift Press, April 2021
Rating: 4/5 stars
Climate change and family drama converge to create a melancholic yet fairly formulaic story in this apocalyptic sophomore novel by Jessie Greengrass.
Every once in a while a debut comes along that is só impressive that I will instantly move the author to the top of my “to watch list” for the upcoming years. 2018 brought me two such debuts: Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under, and Jessie Greengrass’ Sight,. Although Sight, was met with mixed reviews, I was firmly in the camp of 5-star ratings, blow away by her skill for beautiful prose, unique format and insightful exploration of the anxieties of motherhood and body to be found within. Confirmed upon recent reread, it remains as one of my favourite novels on the subject I’ve read to date. The High House is something completely different, but impressive all the same.
Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive at the High House after her father and stepmother fall victim to a faraway climate disaster. A legacy from their climate-scientist stepmother, who predicted this future with scary accuracy, the High House is a converted summer home, set up to be refuge against the rising tides. Left with the house’s caretaker Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally, the two pairs learn to live together in the wake of tragedy, dwindling supplies and an uncertain future.
The biggest selling-point of this novel for me was the vivid melancholic atmosphere, furthered by Greengrass’s strong prose. Although the story is one that will feel familiar if you’ve read more within the cli-fi genre, it’s that narrative voice that makes it worth reading. The same insight in characters psychology and family-relationships I adored from her before is also on display here. The biggest diversion from Sight, is a more accessible, more traditional and at times formulaic style. Whereas I’ve read very few books like Sight, I’ve read many books like The High House. This can work either of two ways: give The High House a bit more mainstream appeal (which based on the high average rating seems the case), or make it more likely to blend into the background within its genre.
If you’re in the market for a well-executed cli-fi novel in the vein of Maja Lunde's KlimakvartettenBarbara Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour or Charlotte McConaghyMigrations, or just looking for a beautiful intimate family portrait: The High House is one to keep an eye out for.