The Gingerbread house book cover
Book reviews

The Gingerbread House by Kate Beaufoy

There’s a memorable scene in The Gingerbread House (published by Black & White Publishing, in 2017), where Katia, the story’s mute teenage narrator, is quietly hiding in a tree house on the grounds of her grandmother’s countryside home. A gardener has arrived to tend to the lawns of the house, and Katia – as she clandestinely observes his interactions from her hideaway – can’t help wondering if the younger caretaker is flirting with her mother, Tess.

Although he’s some distance away, Katia describes how the gardener looks up at the tree, and through its dense foliage, locks eyes with her, as though he’s aware of her presence, despite not being able to see her. It was a passage that sent a shiver down my spine, and as it eventuated, turned out to be something of a portent.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Gingerbread House is the fifteenth novel of Kate Beaufoy – including twelve titles she wrote under the name Kate Thompson – who resides in Ireland. Katia has moved out of the city to help Tess care for her elderly grandmother, who is afflicted by dementia.

Tess, an aspiring novelist, who recently lost her job as an advertising copywriter, believes the quiet setting will be conducive to her writing, but fails to comprehend the commitment necessary to care for husband’s mother, whose condition is far worse than previously believed. Katia, meanwhile, has plenty of ideas as to what Tess should do, but she is unable to articulate herself.

Despite being powerless to act, selecting Katia as the narrator is an astute choice. An adult depicting an elderly relative’s struggle with a debilitating disease might not be as forthright as Katia, who doesn’t hold back when describing the often uncomfortable aspects of caring for her grandmother.

An adult discussing the same might be more selective with their words, perhaps in an effort to preserve the dignity of the older person, but Katia’s incisive commentary leaves the reader with nowhere to hide. But her grandmother’s illness is not the entirety of The Gingerbread House, Katia too has a story, one that will possibly shock when fully revealed.

And while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I’m forever scouring book covers in search of some clue as to how the story might unfold. The Gingerbread House’s cover artwork includes a house partially immersed in water, yet Katia’s grandmother lives nowhere near any bodies of water. A curious phenomenon surely, but one that makes sense once you’ve finished the book.

Have you already read The Gingerbread House? What did you think? Why not leave a comment below and let me know.

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