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The River House    by Margaret Leroy order for
River House
by Margaret Leroy
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Margaret Leroy, who also wrote the excellent Postcards from Berlin, makes you care about her characters, who feel so real that you know they must be out there leading the lives she talks about. The lead in The River House is forty-ish Ginnie Holmes, a child psychologist who works with, and cares greatly about, troubled children. Part of her feeling for her young patients comes from her own childhood, one of watching her father abuse her mother, and wondering why the latter stayed in that situation. Ginnie is married to a university lecturer, Greg, with whom she has two daughters. Molly is heading to Oxford, while Amber is sixteen.

Her nest beginning to empty, Ginnie's dissatisfaction with her life builds. She loves her home, which is close to the river Thames, but she and Greg haven't made love for years and lead almost separate lives. She hopes for change after Molly moves out, but Greg simply takes over their daughter's room for his own use - a moment when Ginnie knows 'the limits of what we have, what we are.' Ginnie meets police officer, DI Will Hampden, whom she consults about one of her patients, and the attraction is instant and mutual. They meet every Thursday on a river path walk, and later bring a rug to a run-down wooden building - perhaps once a summerhouse - for their liaisons. It's there that Ginnie, caught in Will's embrace, spots a man running suspiciously. The instincts of her trade are aroused. Once home, she hears the news of the murder of a young woman, the body found in the river, near where she and Will meet. Should she come forward with what she saw? Could it possibly be relevant? The potential damage to two families holds Ginnie back. Then the dead woman's husband makes an appeal on television that changes everything.

A great deal of symbolism highlights Leroy's plot and her characters' feelings about events - such as bars of sunlight that seem opaque to Ginnie, trapped in a marriage in neutral, or the impulsive purchase of high-heeled wine colored boots that she wears to meetings with Will. The decision on whether or not to come forward, which drives the plot, takes place in the very real context of everyday life - Ginnie's get-togethers with friends, conflict with her teen daughter Amber, and worry about her aging mother. It's these other women in her life who ultimately steer her in the right direction. Settle down in a deep armchair or hammock with The River House, and make sure you're comfortable - you won't want to get up for a while.

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