The Houseguest

Written by Agnes Rossi
Review by Ellen Keith

It’s a good feeling to open up a new book and know after reading the first words that I’ve “discovered” a new author. The first chapter is intense, and the subject matter isn’t light-hearted. But once I read the first sentences, there was no way I could put the book down.

Edward Devlin is a man haunted by his past. His years as a freedom fighter during the Irish civil war have ended in disappointment. The love of his life, his wife Agnes, has just died a lingering death from tuberculosis, contracted while they were living in New York City. Now back in Ireland, Edward is so absorbed in his own grief that he cannot bear any reminder of Agnes, including Maura, their six-year-old daughter.

Leaving Maura behind with his spinster sisters, Edward returns to America seeking a fresh start. With help from a former acquaintance, John Fitzgibbons, he soon finds work. He also has a place to live after “Fitz” and his wife, Sylvia, invite him into their home. Unhappy in her marriage, unfulfilled in her desire for children, Sylvia is attracted to Edward. Maura, meanwhile, has been shunted off to boarding school and bides her time, dreaming that her father will come back for her.

Agnes Rossi is a gifted writer. Her ability to project the both the raw edges and the subtle nuances of grief and loss is remarkable. The action is well paced, and the author does a masterful job of uncovering truth that hides beneath the surface. For example, Edward’s choice to leave his daughter appears reprehensible at first, but by slowly revealing his experience, she makes it impossible to judge him too harshly. Likewise, the warm welcome Fitz gives Edward, a man he barely knows, is curious until his motivation is later revealed. The Depression isn’t the focus of the story, but it does serve as the proper historical backdrop, being a time of lost hopes and dreams for so many. I definitely recommend this book.