Ian Colford’s Reviews > Stop House Blues











Stop House Blues by Maggie Hemingway

Read in June 1991

5 of 5 stars

This fascinating novel tells the story of Robert, a boy who yearns to be released into the world beyond the isolated hamlet where he lives with his parents. For Robert, life is elsewhere. The train passing by has convinced him that a world of adventure and opportunity exists; all he has to do is get there. Midway through his adolescence he is sent away by his parents, to a small village to live with his aunt and uncle, who treat him like an indentured servant. Subject to his aunt’s taunting and capricious household rules, Robert finds life even more restricted than before. So he plots his escape. As he gazes at the canal that meanders through the village, Robert's yearning for that world where good things await him intensifies. Finally, deemed unmanageable by his aunt, he is sent away again, this time to the city, where he expects to find adventure and make something of himself. The city however is not only disappointing, but dangerous and confusing as well. The people he meets are lazy, degenerate or hopelessly deluded. In the city his failures accumulate. He finds menial work, but life seems to be at a standstill. Once again the world fails to live up to expectations, the object of his dreams and passions remains tantalizingly out of reach. Still, he does not give up the search. When, after great effort, he attains success in love and secures the attention of the girl of his desires, she turns out to be something other than what he expected and the affection he craves does not materialize. Maggie Hemingway’s second published novel (but the first she wrote) is a dystopian masterpiece, a book that presents a nameless world that is endlessly bleak and harrowing, where there is no hope of redemption or reward and where people prey upon one another in order to survive. The world she draws is dark and damp, repugnant and dripping with menace, but her prose is so richly textured and filled with such precise and vivid detail that one cannot help but be pulled in: seduced and repelled in equal measure as the story unfolds and this unforgiving Dickensian landscape comes frighteningly into focus. Robert’s innocence and optimism stand in stark contrast to the world in which he finds himself, and in the end we recognize that we are all Robert, and his world is our world. Stop House Blues is a brilliant and haunting novel by a writer who died too soon and too young.