Home by Rebekah Lattin Rawstrone is an unnerving novel which stays with you long after you have finished reading it. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly reassuring title. This book isn’t about home in the cosy, stay in, have a pizza and watch a box set sense. The home in the title is referring to the euphemistic antiseptic institutional variety, as in care “home”.
Retired Steve has recently started working in one of the above mentioned homes for the elderly at the behest of his dying wife Fran. Knowing the kind of man Steve is, she realises that he will need something to keep him going when she is gone.
Initially things start well. The work load is manageable and being relieved of the responsibility of being a carer for a few hours a day unburdens Steve, and no doubt eases his wife’s concerns about him being occupied when she has passed. Although they have a son he is living in America and him and Steve are somewhat estranged.
Steve’s new colleagues are bearable if not entirely likable. The homes two nurses are Milos an immigrant and aspiring artist with a wife and child back home and Sarah. Sarah is a rather bitter and hard done by figure who labours under an unreciprocated crush on Milos. Steve’s boss is Miss Tacey, whose penchant for aggressive high heels and tightly fitted outfits provide a source of amusement for him and his wife.
Despite Steve’s UKIP like views on immigration it is with Milos that he strikes up a friendship both of them bonding over hot beverages and cigarettes, Turkish coffee for Milos and of course tea for Steve.
Things tick along well enough for Steve and a new routine is developed. Then the inevitable happens and Fran dies. Initially devastated, as time passes and Steve emerges gradually from the fog of immediate mourning, he starts notice some things don’t add up.
Why after working for months in the home has he never set eyes on a resident? Why is the home in possession of an industrial strength incinerator for cremation? And why did the care home employ Steve, an elderly man with a dying wife as caretaker? It’s almost as if they were looking to hire someone distracted who wouldn’t pay attention to their surroundings…
Steve decides some investigation is in order and uses his position as care taker to give him the access he requires in order to get the answers he needs. But as Steve soon discovers, some questions are dangerous to ask.
Home is a challenging book which offers the reader no easy resolutions. It unflinchingly looks at the way western society treats it elderly and how they are marginalised and commodified for the sake of convenience.
The home itself is anything but that, its bleached neutrality rendering everything interchangeable and impersonal. Here individuals lose their specific histories and become part of the interchangeable mass termed the ‘elderly’ which society consigns those deemed to be past usefulness.
Ghastly families flit in and out of the home to pay perfunctory visits to their alleged loved ones, primarily concerned about easing their own guilt rather than the wellbeing of their relatives.
This novel is not easy to read, especially if you have a friend or relative currently residing in an institution, but things worth reading usually aren’t. While some people will no doubt be defensive in the face of its critique I feel that it is both necessary and compelling.
To say I enjoyed “Home” seems a little perverse given its subject matter. instead I’ll just say it left me unnerved and a little sad, which I mean as a compliment as sometimes one requires something a little more substantial than the sweet lies of happy ever afters.