Skip to content

A House for Alice

Diana Evans  

Chatto & Windus (2023)

 Review by Delon Jessop  


Diana Evans’s follow up to Ordinary People is a frank and piercing look at family ties, love, duty and inheritance. 

 Evans’s fourth novel, A House for Alice, opens in 2017 under tragic circumstances. Melissa’s father, Cornelius, has died in a house fire. The already sombre mood is then compounded by news of the Grenfell Tower fire. These two events act as a crowbar, prising open the family’s perception of who they are, and how they should conduct themselves within their new reality. Despite being separated from her husband, Alice is deeply moved by Cornelius’s death; it galvanises her to return to Nigeria. Like many of her contemporaries, Alice yearns for the familiarity, warmth and safety she believes will be provided by returning to her country of origin. This epiphany is met with mixed reactions from her three daughters, Melissa, Carol and Adel. From this point on, we observe how the family struggles to work out the best outcome for Alice, and all those involved. 

In the intervening years of this sequel to Ordinary People, Michael has married Nicole, a jobbing singer from London. Despite moving on romantically, though, Michael and Melissa are still tied by co-parenting duties to their grown up children, Ria and Blake. The other central couple from Ordinary People, Damien and Stephanie, are also navigating a new landscape of separation. Stephanie pressures Damien to adhere to a routine of her choosing. Evans also shines a light briefly on Carol in her efforts to help her son to assimilate back into society after his release from prison. 

A House for Alice is published as a stand-alone novel, but reading Ordinary People first would allow readers to familiarise themselves with Evans’s carefully constructed world. The author demonstrates an ability to integrate societal questions into the drama of her characters’ lives. Her description of the crowd’s discussion following the Queen’s appearance at Grenfell Tower is a good example of this: 

‘Their feelings are mixed, this furious crowd. This lady’s wealth is questionable, but is it her fault that she was born onto a pile of gold culled from the destruction and theft of nations and communities, and do we have the energy, really, at this moment, to reproach her for lacking the courage at any point in her life to cast off that wealth and forge a new identity as a normal person with a proper job and obligations to HMRC? She is HMRC.’  

My one reservation about the novel is the lack of time spent exploring Carol’s struggles. By intertwining the stories of the two original couples with Alice’s relocation, the addition of Carol’s storyline feels underwritten. Despite this, A House for Alice is thoroughly captivating. Its generous and probing prose will leave you reflecting on what you deem to be home, and on where the book’s central characters will be a decade from now.