Curmudgeon Avenue by Samantha Henthorn is Book One of the Terraced House Diaries. This book is a brilliant five-star Amazon read because of manipulation and highly talented use of language. Just after the final page of chapter thirty-three in a section titled “Acknowledgments and Stuff …” there is an address for the author’s blog which sums up why this novel is excellent. All by itself, the blog address makes a real statement about the book: samanthahenthornfindstherightwords.blog. As of the date of this post, I found the blog, but WordPress.com is acting up, and I am having trouble registering to follow the author. I was able to add it in my WordPress.com Reader; it is a fantastic site full of information, tips on writing, and fun reading.
The narrator of Curmudgeon Avenue is the all-knowing House. There are several subplots, but I was unable to define an all-encompassing plot until I finished the novel. There is no character development in the traditional sense I know. Characters develop and change in a couple of directions. There will be an ultimate success or ultimate doom and frustration. That doesn’t happen in this novel. The House presents characters and events in their lives from the past and in the present. Implications for the future are left up to the reader. Readers can check their assumptions in follow-up novels, something I am sure to do.
Putting aside plot and character, what is left? There is pacing. This novel is a very fast-paced tale. The distinguishing feature of this novel, which makes it brilliant, is language. To help me with my reviews, I highlight clever language use as I read. With this book, I would be highlighting almost two-thirds of the work. There is no salacious sexual language and no violence. The most sensitive Snowflake will find it challenging to identify ethnic or gender stereotypes that pose micro-aggressions to their delicate structures. The novel, published in 2018, has up-to-date cultural references such as those to Game of Thrones.
There is no way to describe the brilliant language use other than through a couple of examples. I will limit my examples to two, although a bit of background is necessary. Keep in mind that all reporting is done by the House. For added fun, look at the Table of Contents. As readers progress; the chapter titles become increasingly funny.
Mr. and Mrs. Payne owned the house at Number One Curmudgeon Avenue, and if they had continued to live there, the House might have had no complaints. But no one could anticipate the actions of Harold Goatshed, a person of limited talents in personal hygiene, and the reactions of Dierdre, the elephant. Harold, despite having no license to drive or transport an elephant, accepted a contract to deliver Dierdre from a zoo to her new home. Sometime during the transport, Dierdre became sensitive and reacted to Harold’s unusual body odor. Subsequent shifts of gravity in the vehicle caused a crash into a caravan occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Payne. They died. Harold fled, Dierdre eventually made it to a wildlife park, and Edith and Edna Payne, the inheriting children, occupied the House.
The two sisters did not get along but were able to accommodate each other by living in separate parts of the house. They were amicable if they did not have to meet. Time progressed, and the two entered the decade between their 60s and 70s. Without a lot of attention to the House, certain deficiencies demanded attention. There was a leak in the roof, and it was too expensive for the two sisters to fix without more income than provided by meager pensions, income from part-time work, or public assistance. They would have to take in lodgers. At this point, the story begins.
Harold will make a reappearance along with nosy neighbors, a career unemployed son, several ex-lovers, and people with ill intent dedicated to cheating the sisters. All potential lodgers will be observed and reported by the House. The narrator does not become involved; there are no supernatural interventions. The observations are not laugh-out-loud, but they will keep a smile or smirk on the face of the reader throughout the reading experience.
There are two examples of language I chose to exemplify clever writing; one relates to the death of Henri III, a pet cat.
“Now, pet funerals are not uncommon in the Northwest of England. Usually performed if there is a child in the family, heartbroken and often inconsolable at the sudden lesson in mortality that their beloved familiar had provided. Children, on their knees saying a few words of sympathy around a little patch of dug up garden, concealing the corpse of any number of goldfish and hamsters. Henri the Third was due to have a funeral, it seemed the right thing to do, and the most childish person in the house, Edith had decided to write down a few words to say at the ceremony. ‘He was a French cat, so he was most likely Catholic…’ she said to Edna, who was not really listening. ‘I know that’s a bit of a sweeping generalisation, but well we can’t ask him, and I never saw him go to church. He did seem to like fish on a Friday- so that’s something to go off.’ (Kindle locations 1008-1013).
The other example is of Harold trying to reestablish close relations with at least one of the two sisters.
“This is how Harold remembered what happened: To be honest, Edna was not Harold’s type. He was just grateful that she said yes. He only asked her out because he could, because no one else would (go out with Harold that is). Edna had insisted on meeting up during the day, and on this day the sky was sky blue. Harold suggested a ride out to the country ‘An adventure’ he’d persuaded her. Harold had forgotten his lie about owning a car – and may have told Edna he drove a mini, so when Harold turned up with a tandem, Edna had turned her nose up. Harold remembered being slightly perturbed at Edna, ungrateful cow, he had stolen that tandem especially for her. Harold remembered taking her to a pub in the countryside, now what was it called? How was Harold to know they would end up gate-crashing the wake of the chairman of the local bird watching club? Harold had an arm wrestle with a man-on-crutches. Harold felt sorry for him and let him win. And the date ended with the pair passionately canoodling in the corner of the pub…” (Kindle locations 1211-1216).
I highly recommend the humor, wit, and writing of Samantha Henthorn. I am following her blog and look forward to reading more of her publications. With a sale price of USD 0.99 on Amazon, it is also available on Kindle Unlimited.