Anne Tyler is one of the greatest family chroniclers of our time. Her genius is in the way she tells the story, finding the nuance, and beautifully describing the emotional complexity in family relationships. Her novels are full of the humour, the secrets, the struggles, and the joys of everyday events…the stuff of our lives. It is easy to get immersed in her novels, assuming you like novels about family, that is. She gives her work a humorous touch and yet captures the tragic as well. It is not uncommon with Tyler to laugh one moment and be surprised by tragedy the next–only a novelist with a complete command of her material can achieve that so well.
This one is about the house as much as the family that lives in it. I loved the way Tyler describes how it was built, how they got possession of it, how it was lovingly cared for, and how Red and Abby and two other generations of Whitshanks grew up in it.
There has been a lot of speculation about whether this is her final work. She told the BBC she might not finish another, but that she would keep on writing. If this is her final one, then she has ended on a high note, although this was not my favourite of hers (Ladder of Years still has that spot). I do hope it advances to the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015 shortlist because it would be great for her to receive one more honour after giving us so many great novels, 20 in all. As I move on to another Baileys’ long listed book, my personal vote for the winner so far, would still be for either Elizabeth is Missing or Station Eleven.