A group of notable writers―including UK poet laureate Simon Armitage, Julian Barnes, Margaret MacMillan, and Jenny Uglow―celebrate our fascination with the houses of famous literary figures, artists, composers, and politicians of the past.
Together with her fellow life-writer Kate Kennedy, Lee has co-edited a rich and eclectic collection of essays about the role houses play in people’s lives and our fascination with the homes of our creative heroes ... Highlights include Jenny Uglow on Edward Lear’s villas in San Remo, Italy...Julian Barnes on the Finnish composer Sibelius’s 'grand log villa', Ainola, near Lake Tuusula; David Cannadine on Winston Churchill’s Chartwell in Kent...Alexander Masters on the fear of houses and why people end up on the street (the reasons cover everything from 'restlessness to death') ... In her own beautifully written contribution 'A House of Air'...Lee asks why so many of us feel the need to make the pilgrimage to the home of a long-departed author, artist or composer. Our motivation is often confused: 'a mixture of awe, longing, desire for inwardness, and intrusive curiosity'.
For much of the country, sheltering in place over the past three weeks has been a wearisome but essential civic duty ... But where or what is home? According to one old saying, home is where the heart is, and, according to the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song, it’s anywhere we hang our hats ... Having done heaps and heaps of living in Casa Dirda this March, how could I resist Lives of Houses, ... The book’s contributors are as distinguished as its two editors and include novelist Julian Barnes writing about the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s home Ainola; historian David Cannadine on Chartwell, where Winston Churchill lived; Yeats biographer Roy Foster describing the poet’s richly symbolic but clammy and inhospitable tower retreat Thoor Ballylee; and Jenny Uglow on Edward Lear’s Villa Emily in San Remo ... A few of the best essays, however, aren’t about famous people.
Lee and Kennedy have selected weighty names, including Simon Armitage, Julian Barnes and Jenny Uglow, to excavate the domestic lives of past politicians, writers, artists and others ... The joy of the book lies in the sheer variety of its subjects’ domestic routines ... But not all homes are charming and not all domestic life is jolly. Houses are full of horrors and, in this collection, women experience fewer of their sensual pleasures and more of the drudge ... Not all the writing is skilled. A piece by Alexander Masters is presented as a series of interviews with homeless men and women at a drop-in centre in the south coast town of Eastbourne, a world ripe for illumination. But this essay is dutiful rather than necessary, its subjects reduced to their first names.