Half Broken Things by Morag Joss

half broken thingsSixty-something Jean is an afterthought of a person, a house sitter by trade who will soon be forced into retirement after her final job, which involves the caretaking of a stately country house for eight months.

With the owners completely absent and a long list of don’ts for a rule book, Jean is at first stifled by her situation, and then liberated, and when she begins to make some unsanctioned decisions (using off limit rooms, discovering the wine cellar, etc.) life acquires new dimensions for Jean.  Now if only she could share her new contentment,  and chores, as the estate requires more upkeep than she can manage.

Company and help come with Michael, a forty-ish petty thief, and Steph, an abused young pregnant woman.  Through a meeting of sheer accident, Jean invites the couple to live there, and Walden Manor, as the house is known, becomes a thriving refuge for them, after making hard decisions, some of them illegal.

Their haven is temporary, and although the house is isolated to an extent, it’s not long before the outside world comes calling.  But Walden Manor is easily the best thing that has ever happened to any of them, and keeping the proverbial wolves at bay involves taking extreme measures.

Half Broken Things is a slow-burner of a country idyll that goes horribly wrong.  Told alternatively in Jean’s journal entries and third person chapters, the book takes awhile to take off, but it does nicely, and you will quickly get wrapped up in the tension.  Suffice it to say, you’ll be alternatively rooting for Jean, Michael, and Steph,  and reeling in shock.

This book came as a recommendation via a New York Times weekly column called By the Book, in which they interview authors and their literary preferences; Half Broken Things got an affirmative nod from Sophie Hannah.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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