Where We Belong by Anstey Harris

I received the ebook of Where We Belong from the publisher via Netgalley. The decision to read was my own and this review is my honest opinion.

Blurb

One summer.
One house.
One family learning to love again.

Cate Morris and her son, Leo, are homeless, adrift. They’ve packed up the boxes from their London home, said goodbye to friends and colleagues, and now they are on their way to ‘Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World – to stay just for the summer. Cate doesn’t want to be there, in Richard’s family home without Richard to guide her any more. And she knows for sure that Araminta, the retainer of the collection of dusty objects and stuffed animals, has taken against them. But they have nowhere else to go. They have to make the best of it.

But Richard hasn’t told Cate the truth about his family’s history. And something about the house starts to work its way under her skin.
Can she really walk away, once she knows the truth?

Review

Anstey Harris’ first novel, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton was one of my book highlights of 2019, so much so that it made my round up of Top Reads of 2019 and I bought myself a beautiful hardcover copy for my forever shelf. I was incredibly excited, therefore, to read her latest novel, Where We Belong.

Cate Morris and her son, Leo are forced to move in to her late husband’s family home, ‘Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World’ when circumstances render them homeless. Whilst Cate is adamant that their stay will be temporary, it seems that life has other plans and soon the house begins to demand the love and attention it has been deprived of for so long from its new tenants. But once the dust is blown away, long held secrets are revealed leaving Cate to reconsider everything she thought she knew.

My first note is just how different this is from Grace. Whilst some authors stick to a formula, this is entirely original and once again beautifully written. The author is wonderfully astute at conveying complex circumstances in a relatable way, her characters are imperfect but in a way that makes them more human. I remember reading a review about Grace in a woman’s magazine shortly after I had read it, and I was amazed that the most remarkable thing they pulled from the book was that Grace was having an affair with a married man. This apparently set the reviewer immediately against her. Life is full of shades, no one lives an entirely perfect life and I personally love that characters in novels are reflecting this more accurately, the well worn lines of good and bad becoming blurred into something far more representative. In Where We Belong, I found Cate to inhabit that role. Throughout the novel, as the story of Hatters and her husband’s family history is uncovered, so is the complexities of her marriage. At first I struggled with Cate, and it took me a while to figure her out. Her tendency to quickly judge people and make unfounded assumptions, even in terms of the capabilities of her own son. However, as her character became more rounded there was much in her I could relate to and by the end I was her champion.

I cannot write anything more in this review until I cover Cate’s son, Leo. Without doubt my favourite character within this novel. His character development was a complete joy to read, and I loved that his disability was actually the least interesting thing about him. His ability to love, his compassion and his instinctive vision of the world around him is a thing of beauty.

Just as much as music played such an integral role in Grace, so does the museum, Hatters, in Where We Belong. It vibrates with energy, and occupies the role of another main character. It is all-seeing and ever-present, and yet despite my initial misgivings towards it – led very much by Cate’s emotions as the narrator – it becomes a place of sanctuary, and of hope. Inspired by the Powell-Cotton Museum in Kent, Hatters is a place of wonders. I loved wandering around the galleries and learning about the artifacts through Cate’s eyes, and I adored that it felt so alive, the arrival of Cate and Leo wakening the dusty relics from a long nap.

Where We Belong is a novel that I didn’t entirely know where to place in terms of genre as I read, and I never really knew what to expect by its end. It is however, once more a remarkable exploration of humanity, of self discovery and of never taking people at face value. Whilst I didn’t feel the overwhelming emotional connection that I had with Grace, it is a novel I adored and found myself very quickly immersed in. I’m a huge fan of Anstey Harris’ style of storytelling, and I will be very much looking forward to novel number three.

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