I’d been aware of Lettice Cooper’s novel The New House for years before I read it this month. The premise — a whole book about one day, a moving day –is intriguing, if you’re at all interested in houses, minutiae, and time. One thing that tempered my interest in the book was a description I’d read of the author as a Socialist and Freudian. Another thing that kept me from reading it so long was the price. But I found a copy for $1.50 at a barn sale earlier this month. And so I’ve finally read it.
First of all, the socialism. It is there, all right, and we get to watch several of the characters thinking about it. But Lettice Cooper the novelist is ultimately wiser than Lettice Cooper the socialist. And the book is ultimately too philosophical to be a political tract. We see a world in which tradition has been seemingly cut off from the sources of tradition and degraded to mere convention. In such a world, socialism possesses an attraction. One of the characters realizes at one point that socialist ideology gains force as belief in perfect justice in the next life wanes. Throughout the book, the thirst of the characters for the transcendent is palpable. The honesty of inquiry startles.
Second, the book is astonishingly acute as an expose of feminine vices: manipulation, pusillanimity, people-pleasing, imposing one’s own anxieties on others. It looks at the ways that people (“the members of one’s own family and household”) enslave each other and choose slavery for themselves. The concept of liberation is deeply examined. One character goes so far as to identify liberty and equality as opposing ideals.
Third, if you are interested in minutiae (or, for that matter, houses or time) you will find much in these pages to occupy and delight. I smiled inside every time the cats made an appearance because of how sharply they were observed. There are many layers of reality here and they are all unfolded with poignant clarity.