Home > Book Review, dystopian, Genre, Length - average but on the shorter side > Book Review: The High House by Jessie Greengrass

Book Review: The High House by Jessie Greengrass

Image of a digital book cover. A heron stands in water. A topographical map is superimposed over him in yellow.

Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?

I haven’t really been in the mood for dystopian literature since March of 2020, preferring a bit more escapism in my reading. But the cover of this book featuring that gorgeous egret really drew me in when I was browsing NetGalley. And I thought that maybe a book about a dystopia brought on just by climate change would be different enough to still work for me. Plus I had my fingers crossed it would involve birds after featuring one so strongly on the cover. What I found was a book about trials different enough from our own that it gave me distance and yet with meaningful moments that took my breath away with their relevance. It was like eating a very delicious chocolate cake and then sometimes getting mouthfuls that are even more delicious because they have surprising ooey gooey pockets of liquid chocolate.

“All I can think is that what’s different now is that no one can claim this is progress.”

 (loc 1308)

The High House is a coastal summer home inherited by an environmental academic named Francesca. In spite of being coastal, it is, as the name implies, on high ground. She can see what’s coming, even though others won’t listen to her. So, while she keeps trying to bring about change to prevent it, she also secretly sets up the high house for her stepdaughter Caro and her son Pauly (who is 14 years younger than Caro). She also hires on the local elderly groundskeeper who is very wise in the old ways, Grandy, and by extension his university-aged granddaughter, Sally. I thought the book was going to be mostly set in the now of these folks living together after the flooding. But really it was largely these characters looking backward at the years just before the event, and through the event. How they came to be the way they are now. Sally, Caro, and Pauly all take turns narrating.

It’s difficult to explain how beautiful this book is without spoiling it. It’s no like the ending is a surprise or a twist but rather it takes reading the book in its entirely to get what the book is saying. And what it is saying is just simply gorgeous. In a sad way. I suppose what I can say is that this book depicts complex grief without ever really saying that’s what it’s doing. And it’s exquisite.

And the birds. Pauly loves birds, and it’s his knowledge and genuine love of them that lets everyone else know a bit of what they’re talking about when they talk about the birds. The heron on the cover is a bit of a flaw in cover design, because the birds that are actually important to the story are a pair of egrets. is They have a very important role that, again, was devastatingly exquisite. (We don’t see any harm come to the birds, and it’s a bit up in the air if any does).

This was a gorgeous book that I found comforting the way a sad movie can sometimes be. I stayed up far too late to finish it, because I just simply couldn’t look away. If you love nature and question what can remain for humans after large changes, pick this one up and let yourself get swept away.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 272 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

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