I mentioned to a friend that I was reading House Rules, the latest best-seller from author Jodi Picoult. She uttered the words that, I’m sure, no author wants to hear. Oh, I’ve read a few of her books, but really, read one of her books you’ve read them all I was shocked, but couldn’t respond as I had only just started the book.
Now that I have finished the book, and realised it was every bit as good as I expected it to be, I have handed the book on to my friend and advised her to read it!
Jodi Picoult is one of the most popular authors around these days, and I have read almost all of her books (House Rules is her seventeenth) and loved them all. My friend though is right to a certain extent there is a bit of a formula to a Jodi Picoult book. They almost all involve a struggling family (or two), an ill or disabled child, long suffering siblings of said child, a court case bound to set a new premise somewhere and a mother single-mindedly determined to be her family’s hero. But, well, the formula works. And Picoult manages to tackle confronting and difficult issues in a no-nonsense yet sensitive manner.
House Rules is the story of the Hunt family. Single mum Emma has two sons an 18 year old Jacob and 15 year old Theo. Jacob has Aspergers syndrome which means that he requires intensive support from his mother in his day to day functioning. Jacob struggles in social situations, has an inability to deviate from his regular routine and an absolute fascination with crimes shows and forensic police work. Emma works from home and has devoted her life to give Jacob the best possible life he can have, occasionally to the detriment of Theo’s care and attention.
When Jacob is implicated in the murder of a young college student, his inability to make eye contact or demonstrate empathy makes him the police’s prime suspect. There is also the little matter of his crime scene obsession, he has been known to show up to crime scenes in the middle of the night on the pretext of helping the police. And with a fumigator for fingerprints and a penchant for setting up elaborate crime scenes in his home, the police believe he may have taken his fantasy world one step further and created a real crime scene.
The story follows Jacob’s trial for murder and provides real insight into the day to day life of someone with Asperger’s, and the very real difficulties they face by not fitting into what is perceived as normal behaviour in certain situations. It is powerfully told and, as a mother, it made me ache not only for Emma and Jacob, but for Theo too who just seemed forgotten by his family. And at what cost?
Jodi Picoult writes with a shifting narrative each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the main characters, and each character is absolutely believable. From the way they speak, to their individual quirks, the characters come to life when presented in the first person in this way.
I loved reading this book, even though it can be heavy going at times with such complex issues being played out. The ending though left me feeling a little bereft. To me, it initially felt a little sudden – with a lot left unsaid. But, this is Jodi Picoult, and another part of her formula for writing books is that she respects her reader. And respects that we have the ability to think this through and in a way decide for ourselves how this family will move forward.
Overall, I thought this book was fabulous. I would highly recommend it to all Jodi Picoult fans and for readers who love a great, character driven story that gets right to the heart of controversial issues without pausing for breath. I can’t wait for her next one!
Available now: Allen & Unwin RRP$32.99