Juliet Blaxland’s The Easternmost House, published by Sandstone Press, is a memoir documenting a year of life on a crumbling cliff at the easternmost edge of England. Cally Callomon reviews.
The evening after I turned Juliet’s final page I went to one of those dinner parties where I was meant to meet ‘new people’. I don’t need any new people. One chap, failing to identify me as a disinterested listener, used up most of the room’s oxygen supply in telling me all about himself. Each of his sentences shot me into his next one, other people’s words would not fit in edge or lengthways. To me he was a rotten talker, he used the precious tools clumsily, it was not a good conversation, his words disregarded the listener.
Similarly we come across those that write rotten words (usually pages and pages of the buggers). They may be writers and authors, sure, but their words are not good to read. Their words disregard the reader.
I wish Juliet Blaxland had been at that party. I imagine she writes as she speaks; a prose that flows effortlessly with a wry turn of phrase at every corner. Plus, she’s bloody funny. In The Easternmost House you read the sound of her voice, and so the book rattles along like a good’un.
Converse-ation relies on contra-diction and there is enough of that in her book to fuel endless debate. It is never clumsy or blinkered, mind, because it’s her story, her life in a strange place in stranger times, and is a tale told in a way that it really doesn’t matter if the reader disagrees with parts as it is so easy to understand, and we all like a duologue. There’s space for me in this book.
Yet it’s also strange to read a book about my own home, and I’m reading two at the moment. This started with Tracey Thorn’s brilliant Another Planet: she writes of the village I grew up in, 14 years of my life expertly portrayed in a beautiful, minimal and often humorous way. Then, in 1988 I moved to Suffolk buying the 35th house I viewed, making sure it was on high ground, far enough from the sea. Over the years, regular bicycle rides to the coast have taken less and less time (probably) as the sea moves closer to greet me.
In order to swallow my home, Neptune has 11 more miles to go, for Blaxland he is on her doorstep.
I sit here in my newly-built studio, beside a newly dug pond, reading the story of her home; the most eastern building on this island; a soon-to-be-doomed structure that was once the second most eastern house until her seaward neighbour’s dwelling was carefully dismantled for good, just as the briney came knocking. I’m conscious of the fact that the roof pantiles on my studio came from that broken home. Its very fabric skipped inland to a current safety and keeps me dry. The sea barks some 11 miles to my right shoulder, I’ll be long gone by the time it arrives.
Her book deals with a life on The Brink. (not an edgy Alton Towers ride), it deals with an encroaching inevitability: the sea eating away land, land with houses on, and in this book: it’s her family home. No matter that she only rents it off the farmer, there is loss to be found here, soon that house, its bricks and glass will return to the sand from where it was born. Perhaps, because she rents, Blaxland treats this inevitability with a great deal of humour, but I sense not, though it is a house, it is also a home, she is an architect by trade and as T.S. Eliot so rightly pointed out:
“Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die… “
(East Coker, 1939)
The brink is, as Blaxland states, for all of us: “the truth is, everyone has a cliff coming towards them – man anticipates all, save that which befalls him”.
The Easternmost House is out now, and available to buy here, priced £9.99.