The Housekeeper by Melanie WallaceThe Housekeeper by Melanie Wallace

The Housekeeper

byMelanie Wallace

Paperback | May 8, 2007

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A chilling literary novel about a nomadic young woman who becomes tangled in the stories of her past and the search for a wild boy.

Teenage runaway Jamie Hall – entangled by circumstance and poverty – seems incapable of escaping the mountain-and-valley watershed that was the birthplace of her maternal grandparents. Working as a housekeeper for Margaret, a retired photographer who leaves behind a pictorial chronicle of the valley’s history, Jamie finds herself trapped in a town–and amongst a group of locals–unable to shake the relentless grip of the past.

With an unforgettable cast of characters and gorgeous, piercing prose, The Housekeeper is at once a poetic meditation on landscape and a page-turning thriller.
Melanie Wallace is the author of Blue Horse Dreaming. She and her husband live in Myloi, an agrarian village below the Ohi mountain range in Greece, and in Paris. The Housekeeper is her second novel, following 2003’s Blue Horse Dreaming.
Title:The HousekeeperFormat:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 8.16 × 5.95 × 0.84 inPublished:May 8, 2007Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385664117

ISBN - 13:9780385664110


Rated 4 out of 5 by from grim and beautiful Melanie Wallace’s novel, The Housekeeper, was longlisted for The Orange Prize. For about the first 100 pages, I couldn’t figure out why. The story itself – if the synopsis is to be believed – sounded intriguing: "When Jamie Hall finds a boy tied to a tree and cuts him loose, she can have no idea of the desperate chain of events her act of humanity will trigger." Jamie is 17. When her mother dies of cancer, she leaves home with her dog and heads for Dyers Corner – the only place she has any connection to; a place her grandmother, while alive, lived. She has nothing and she seems to want nothing. She falls into a strange relationship with Damon, a married man who eventually returns to his pregnant wife. She becomes housekeeper for an elderly photographer, Margaret. Galen, a trapper, pines for her. It is winter and the stark landscape adds to Jamie’s isolation. The boy Jamie cuts loose is wrong. “He thought of nothing in words and so gave no thought to those things he saw before him…” Jamie’s act of kindness begins a series of violent acts that culminate in a tragedy that seemed inevitable, but still left my mouth hanging open. It took me a while to warm up to Wallace’s story and the way it was written, but once I fell into its rhythms, I loved Jamie. She is a smart and resilient character who seems to accept her lot in life without complaint. But her life is grim. And so is Wallace’s story. Spring never comes for these characters, even those who deserve it most.
Date published: 2011-09-16

Read from the Book

OneThe first time Jamie saw the boy, he was tied to a tree. She was in no way prepared for the sight, of him wrapped tight in old clothesline haphazardly wound and knotted, the rope soiled and stained where it had at some previous time curled on pulleys and grimed. He was remarkably still but for the snot that ran from his nose.A half-dozen ragtag children formed an imperfect circle on the road’s edge opposite the boy, clutching their schoolbooks covered in paperbag wrap to their chests. They swayed and milled and murmured nothing to one another and peered at the road as if by doing so they might conjure the schoolbus, but when Jamie’s dog trotted toward them they broke rank, herded close to one another, the smaller children behind and grabbing at the waists of those who were taller. They faced the dog’s approach with apprehension, in silence, but the dog passed them by without so much as a glance and then simply stopped before the boy and after a moment sat, so that she wondered at the sudden stillness of it all, the children and dog and boy motionless in haloed relief against the winter sun’s bleak backdrop that allowed no shadows but gave their shapes a dark solidity she found disconcerting. They watched Jamie come on and remained as they were until the dog came off its haunches and took stance, let go a strangled sound resembling neither growl nor bark but rather a deep primordial howl, and at that instant the trussed boy bawled like a calf and the children shrieked and scattered. She began to run toward them but stopped abruptly and whistled, and the dog raced back, tail up and hackles raised, throwing its head to the side and looking over its shoulder the while, as if to keep the boy checked. She caught the dog up by its collar and got to the boy’s side of the road, called out to the children, Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, but they distrusted the moment and did not recompose themselves into a group and instead wavered here and there at wary angles from one another until one of them yelled at the sound of the bus, and then they knotted together again, crossed the road as one. When the bus lumbered around the bend behind her and slowed, the children waved and shouted as though afraid it would not stop, but it did. As they scrambled onto it she yelled, Wait! Wait!, but they did not, and, still collaring the dog, Jamie half-ran toward the vehicle and slapped at the door just as it was closing. The door sighed open. That boy’s tied, she cried, and the driver, a woman whose years had left her sorely worn, looked a tired look at the boy and then back at her. ’Course he is, she said.You should have left him there, Galen remarked.I did.But you untied him.Jamie made no reply, and they sat in silence on Margaret’s porch and watched the unkempt meadow tuft and spill into the spindly crabapple orchard that etched itself into the leaden sky grayshawling the far hill, and Galen rolled a cigarette and lit it. The smoke from the cheap tobacco he’d grown accustomed to curled blue, and its smell mingled with his own, that of oddly sweetscented sweat and hardwood fires, and with the stronger reek of the lemon wax she’d used on Margaret’s floors, the tang of which still clung to her hands and to her shirt where she’d wiped them. The door gaped open behind them and beyond it the floors dried slowly in the bone-deep chill, and they did not go in. She shivered, thinking of the boy, and Galen peeled off his army jacket and put it over her shoulders and she shivered again, for the warmth and from his smell, and then they sat in the motionless positions of hunters in a blind until Galen rose and walked to the edge of the porch and there touched two fingertips to his tongue, pinched the lit end of the cigarette and extinguished it gingerly, crumbled the tobacco before exhaling a soft sigh and turning toward her.He probably has more sense than you do, if he just stayed there.What’s that supposed to mean?It means he probably knows why he was tied. That he was supposed to be tied. And that if he was untied and gone by the time whoever it was tied him came back for him, there’d be hell to pay.Well he was there the last I looked.Galen fought back a half-grin, contemplated the orchard so as to not meet her eyes. A fine-looking girl, Margaret once said to him, seeing him glance at Jamie as she walked past them toward the flowerbeds she’d been clearing–Margaret incisive as always, with those hooded intelligent eyes in her aged face, Margaret too incisive, too intelligent, to miss what Galen’s look betrayed–lovely the way she holds herself, glides rather than walks, Margaret went on, but strangely wry beyond her years and maybe even beyond mine, not that she even knows what the word means. And then Galen and Margaret had watched her together, Galen feeling unabashed because complicit, until he turned to Margaret and commented, Well, maybe she’s just matter-of-fact. Margaret pshawed then, told him: There’s nothing matter-of-fact about that child. Why, she’s been working for–with–me all summer, since end-May, and now it’s almost Labor Day–and the only thing she’s told me about herself is that she’s someone things happen to. Just, Margaret corrected herself, someone things just happen to. And Galen had wondered then (as he wondered now) if Damon were one of those things that had happened to her, though Galen had told Margaret nothing of what little he knew from hearsay; but as he rose to go back to stripping her windowframes, Margaret stopped him with those intelligent eyes and in her incisive way acknowledged, though he’d mentioned nothing of the sort: It’s good that you’ll be coming by after I leave, even if the most you can do is see that she’s getting by.

Editorial Reviews

“Beautifully written. . . . Wallace’s prose is lush and spare, and she handles both the grotesque and the gorgeous with equal skill.” —Publishers Weekly “Adroitly mixing descriptions of the exterior landscape’s harsh beauty with evocations of her characters’ interior lives, Melanie Wallace has produced a spare, gripping novel that ventures into the territory of first-rate literary fiction.” —Wall Street Journal“Harsh and lyrical. . . . The landscape is one of Wallace’s main accomplishments here. The description of the old mill town Dyers Corner [is] thick with detail that never lets up.” —