Book Review: The House of Lies by Renee Mcbryde

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The House of Lies by Renee Mcbryde

Hachette Australia, February 2017

Review copy provided by publisher

It’s a little tricky to review a memoir, because it’s someone’s real life story. I can however, comfortably comment on the reading experience. In The House of Lies, I was impressed by the author’s ability to structure the story in a narrative format and portray a younger viewpoint without the influence of later adult analysis. The author, Renee Mcbryde works in child protection and teaches community welfare in Alice Springs. She allows the reader to be an intimate observer of her life, with a particular spotlight on the period from childhood to early adulthood.

Renee describes a dysfunctional family unit in her early years. Her own mother was only sixteen when she had her and her biological father was absent from her birth. Renee had a warm and close relationship with her maternal grandmother, though this was a source of tension between Renee and her own mother. Renee’s idealised view of her mother shows glimpses of the imperfections in their relationship, but as a young girl, her life seems reasonably normal.

This changed when “The Secret” was revealed. Upon discovering that her father was not only a convicted criminal but he was in gaol for a highly publicised double murder. The crimes were minimised by her grandmother and any queries Renee had of her father were strongly dismissed by her mother who demanded she keep “The Secret”. Renee was led to believe that she would be judged, rejected and ostracised by her peers (and anyone else for that matter) if she were to divulge her family secrets. Renee’s whole worldview shifted. Her family no longer seemed normal. No, they had buried a dark, terrible secret and Renee was expected to be an accomplice to this. Questions about her father, her genetic makeup, her sense of identity were disregarded. All of a sudden this carefree young girl had to carry the burden of the crimes committed by her father. And she couldn’t talk about it to anyone. She began to believe she may be tainted by her father’s actions.

Of course there are a number of factors that contributed to Renee’s low self-worth including school bullies, weight and body image issues, housing instability, familial discord, changes in her family unit and her attachment relationship to her mother. Apart from all this, it was clear that Renee was an intelligent and driven young girl. Above anything else she wanted to be a success and she desperately wanted the approval of her family and peers. She wanted to be a lawyer. This drive and determination to rise above adversity is an admiral strength that no doubt allowed her to do just that- eventually.

During her adolescence and young adult years, Renee experienced grief and loss, sexual assault and a longstanding abusive domestic relationship. The domestic violence was hard to read, but Renee’s personal account of why she stayed and what she had to overcome was very fascinating. Having worked with many women in domestic violence, I’m amazed at how much emphasis there is on getting the woman to leave the relationship. Especially when that’s only half the problem. Staying ‘gone’ is just as difficult, on an emotional and psychological level. That’s not even taking into account the safety issues that arise when women leave an abusive partner.

“Seven…That’s how many times the average woman leaves a violent relationship before she leaves for good.”

There were many people who encouraged Renee to end her relationship but she was stuck. Stuck in the cycle of violence. It wasn’t until she’d undergone some personal growth and recognised her worth that she made the decision to leave and actually followed through with it. But she had to hit rock bottom first. Renee made the brave decision to end her relationship before she’d even sought any form of therapy, so when she did she was shocked to find that she had become another statistic.

Typically, I tend to steer clear of these kinds of memoirs, because I like to read as an escape (particularly from work) and this is not light reading. Regardless, it was a compelling and fascinating read. It made me think a lot more than I wanted to, but I was quickly immersed in Renee’s recount and her ease of voice. Rather than feeling solemn, it left me feeling hopeful and I think this is owed to the author’s infectious need to see light in the darkness and the lessons in the pain. I think this is partly owed to Renee’s inner resilience but also the psychological input and therapy she engaged in adulthood. A recommended read.

 This book was read and reviewed as part of the 2017 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge aww2017-badge

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3 comments

  1. This sounds like an interesting read, despite the difficult subject matter. Family skeletons – the known secrets people are forced to keep, or the secrets that grownups knowingly hide from their children – fascinate me. They have such a huge impact on the adults we become, often without realising it.
    I love the cover of this book.

    • Complex families are always fascinating, whether it be in fiction or real-life. Marie, you’re so right about the impact of those secrets on adulthood. The early years and the influence of our families and how we see the world become the foundation from which we build our lives. It is a great cover!

  2. I think it’s fabulous to see more and more narratives recently about the reality of family violence. Harrowing to read, but so important to make society see what’s happening and motivate change.

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