Friday, June 18, 2021

Home Ownership in Tana French’s Novels

I love Tana's recent novel The Searcher. From The Lit Hub:

In the Irish mystery novel Broken Harbor, by the American expat writer Tana French, a detective arrives at the scene of a triple murder and steps into what feels like a real-estate ad. Other than a bloody tableau in the kitchen, where the wife was found clinging to life and the husband lies dead, and the bedrooms where the children wait cold in their beds, the house is strangely immaculate, with not a speck of dust on the sleek, modern furniture, or a picture frame out of place on a mantelpiece. Even in the kitchen, the detective can’t help but see double, noticing the highly desirable light from the floor-to-ceiling windows as well as the dark stain spreading across the tiles. So durable is the image of the dream house that not even a nightmare can fully eclipse it.

But the house, like many a listing, appears to better advantage the less time one spends looking. The floors are buckled with damp, the rooms are oddly proportioned and the walls are pocked with inexplicable holes. The surrounding development also suffers as it comes into focus. “At first glance,” the detective thinks, “Ocean View looked pretty tasty,” with “big detached houses that gave you something substantial for your money.” At second glance, he sees neglect in the overgrown grass. By the third glance, he realizes that “you could look straight through three out of four houses, to bare rear windows and gray patches of sky.” The model neighborhood stands mostly empty, one of the many “big bets placed on the future” that foundered after the 2008 financial crisis. French, who published the novel in 2012, was inspired by the real “ghost estates” full of unfinished houses that blighted the Irish landscape after the crash.

In the novel, the victims come to represent an entire generation who were sold a vision of prosperity built on a bad foundation. It emerges that disaster came calling months before their gleaming kitchen ended up doused with blood. Their pivotal mistake was to buy the house in the first place. Desperate to “get on the property ladder,” they abandoned a close-knit group of friends in Dublin, choosing an image of security purchased from a brochure. When the real-estate bubble burst, the value of the house evaporated along with their life savings, and the husband lost his job in the ensuing downturn. By the time the detectives arrive, the now-worthless house is on the brink of being repossessed.

When the book first came out, it dramatized a popular sociological narrative. For people like me, who came of age around 2008, the promise of “the property ladder” lay in pieces—so the story went—because we understood that we would never reach even the lowest rung, or would fall into bottomless debt if we did. I try not to trust too much of what I read in the Style section, but I will admit that the stories about millennials as eternal renters formed my understanding of my own future, in which, for a long time, I never expected to own anything of more value than a laptop or a bicycle. It wasn’t only French’s victims who seemed to have died, but also the economic ideology they had inherited—the faith in a comfortable destiny ordained via real estate. (Read more.)


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