Book Club Review: In the Dream House

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In The Dream House has been one of my most anticipated reads since it was released last year, so I was ecstatic to get the chance to finally read it. Having pondered on this book for so long I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it was about – a memoir of a woman, Carmen Maria Machado, who had fallen into an abusive relationship. 

Yes and no.

I loved this book for many reasons, one of which was the education I received from this book. Whilst it is about a woman who became entangled in an abusive relationship, it is centred on a queer relationship. So, not only did this book educate me in the lack of discourse on domestic abuse in queer relationships, but it succeeded in exposing my own bias.

The style of the book, whilst also incredibly unique, was not hard to follow. The story is told through real-life excerpts from Machado as well as critiques on popular fiction and queer theory, which combined to create a full picture of the trauma and emotion she suffered at the hands of a volatile woman. It was written almost like a scrapbook which, detailed a queer abusive relationship from beginning to end, explaining all the different elements to the people in this relationship as well as the relationship itself.

The story of an abusive relationship told through the metaphor of a ‘dream house’, with many of the different elements, makes it unique and a must-read. The book is not conventionally enjoyable; whilst the story is compelling and the writing is masterful, the real story behind the well-written metaphor is horrifying and gives life to the awful reality of abusive relationships. 

The book has an incredibly powerful effect on the reader. Whether through Macado’s writing or the sheer empathy for her character in the book, the reader becomes an onlooker. I found myself casting opinions on what was happening in the book, especially when Machado would break down due to her partner’s unfeeling nature but ultimately go back to her: every argument I wanted to be her reinforcements and comfort her. A strength of Machado’s writing is her ability to make readers feel such strong emotions towards her protagonist. 

Reading something from Carmen Maria Machado made it hard to pick a favourite quote as I like doing with all my books – her writing is deep, poignant, personal, beautiful, and heart-breaking. But, my favourite quote from this book that I also feel sums up Machado’s ultimate feelings is:

“Nonstalgia (noun)

A reminder to remember: just because the sharpness of the sadness has faded does not mean it was not, once, terrible. It means only that time and space, creatures of infinite girth and tenderness, have stepped between the two you, and they are keeping you safe as they were once unable too.”

So, not only was In The Dream House well written, but it offered many notable lessons, not just on relationships – good and bad – but on life in general.

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