‘We’re All Mad Here’: Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The Paper House

Reading in the New Year for the AWW2017 Challenge

Reading in the New Year for the AWW2017 Challenge

This review is part of the AWW2017 Challenge


Alicious imagery drips from every page of Anna Spargo-Ryan’s debut novel The Paper House. It is a novel of flowers and gardens; of bodies that do not behave in the way their owners expect them to; of confusing non-sequiturs and unavoidable miscommunications; of whispered dangers and the scent of impending doom. But while Alice was able to wake from her dream, Spargo-Ryan’s protagonist, Heather, must find her way back to herself by a far more circuitous and potentially fatal route.

In the wake of a late-stage miscarriage, Heather falls apart. Over the course of the novel, we watch her slowly disintegrate and dissolve; her husband, father, and sister unable to put her back together again. Haunted by childhood memories of her mother’s mental illness, Heather becomes lost in a Wonderland of memories in which she is both child and mother, both carer and patient. Heather’s struggle with her mental health affects everyone around her, and Spargo-Ryan’s portrayal of a fundamentally likeable group of characters inadvertently hurting each other makes for a truly heartbreaking journey.

The greatest pleasure of this novel is to be found in the visceral specificity of Spargo-Ryan’s playful prose. It is a wonderfully written work and impossible to put down from the first page. If you have not yet read it, do; if have read it, do so again.

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