UNDER ONE ROOF by BARRY MARTIN and PHILIP LERMAN
Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
A man in charge of building a shopping centre in Seattle finds one corner still occupied by an old woman who refuses to budge from her memory-filled house, and an amazing relationship develops between them.
When did I buy it? Where and why did I buy it?
One of my favourite places for book browsing – a remainder warehouse called Brierlow Bar, just outside of Buxton. I found this recently-published hardback for £3.99. It was only out in 2013 – it seems that Harper Collins hasn’t done a very good job of letting us know this book exists.
What’s your verdict?
I loved it. Both Barry and Edith are lovable, wonderful companions. It’s utterly believable, the way they become friends, even as the noise from the diggers and builders echo around her little house. He’s enthralled by her tall tales of jazz musicians and of being a spy during the war – sometimes wondering if he can believe even half of it. And she is gradually losing her faculties and coming to depend more and more upon him. Barry’s life is slowly taken over by the unexpected friendship.
Did you finish it? Did it work for you?
Oh yes – I had to slow myself down reading it, as I zipped towards the end. I wanted to delay the inevitable outcome of the story.
What genre would you say it is?
It’s one of those memoirs about seemingly-ordinary people who get caught up in something amazing. But this isn’t about cruelty or disaster in the way that most books in WH Smiths’ ‘Difficult Lives’ sections are – this is a book about the transformative power of friendship.
What surprises did it hold – if any?
Edith’s memories and the stories of her connections with historical and famous figures are all very surprising. This irascible old lady saw more history than you might expect.
What scene will stay with you? Which character will stay with you?
There’s a scene in which two protestors harangue our narrator in the street, mistakenly attacking him for ‘oppressing’ Edith. It’s a painful moment of someone failing to understand a situation and blindly putting issues ahead of actual people.
Another wonderful scene comes near the end of the book, when Barry opens up Edith’s autograph book and gets something of a surprise.
Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
First time for both authors. It reminds me of Alan Bennett’s ‘The Lady in the Van’ – another true-life tale of a good man who finds himself at the beck and call of an ailing dame on his doorstep.
What will you do with this copy now?
It’s a keeper for rereading some day – but I can see myself buying extra copies for presents. And I shall sit back and await the movie that I fully expect to be made some day.
Is it available today?
It ought to be. But it’s one of those books that have been pushed out into the world by its publisher with little fanfare, I think – which is a shame.
Give me a good quote:
‘“The past is the past,” she said, and that pretty much ended it. “This tea isn’t hot enough. I’m going to warm it up. Lukewarm tea tastes too much like piss, if you ask me.”
‘She tottered off back to the kitchen, her teacup rattling on its saucer. She crossed the bright ray of sunlight streaming in through the windowpane, dust motes swirling in the light, all my questions just hanging in the air with them.’