The Life Of Stuff By Susannah Walker – A Review (Non-Fic)

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: May 2018

I saw this book on somebody’s Instagram feed and was immediately intrigued. I’m trying to read more non-fiction this year and this book seemed to call to me. I’ve always said that I need non-fiction to fulfill my nosey nature and what better way to do that than to look through somebody’s belongings.

Obviously I’m being a bit glib there and this book is not a peek behind closed doors and a rummage through someone’s cupboards, it’s a heartbreaking, searingly honest account of one woman’s life with a hoarder mother and, after her death, trying to figure out the kind of woman she was through the belongings she left behind.

When Susannah received the call that her mother had fallen in her home and was in hospital some miles away, she made the dutiful trip to visit her mother, despite having a semi-estranged, strained and difficult relationship with her. Whilst picking up some belongings from her mothers house, Susannah is confronted with the full shocking extent of her hoarding habits and the squalor she had been living in.

After a few days in the hospital, Susannah’s mother unfortunately passes away and Susannah is left with the mammoth task of clearing out her mothers house, Rose Cottage, and putting it back on the market.

This is no mean feat and is not simply a house clearance situation. Whilst sorting through the piles of paperwork, books, ornaments, and general belongings, Susannah slowly but surely tries to understand just who her mother had been and ultimately what had sparked her hoarding habits and driven her to live such a life.

A cold and detached woman who could be considered selfish, Susannah’s mother suffered some loses in her own life which impacted how she treated her children. Susannah didn’t live with her mother after the age of 8 and had periodic contact with her over the intervening adult years, only some of it amicable. With a dependency on alcohol, her mother lived a quiet life of solitude, only broken by her volunteer shifts at the local Oxfam bookshop.

What I enjoyed immensely about this book was the fact that each chapter is constructed around an item or items found in the clearing out of Rose Cottage, a photograph album, a napkin ring, a glass bird ornament. These items spark either a memory for Susannah or provide information about her mother. I also really enjoyed the family tree aspect and found the extended threads of the family very interesting. They didn’t span back so far as to not still be engaging and relatable to Susannah and her mother.

This book not only explores the difficult relationship between mother and daughter, it also explores the themes of loss and grief, not just that of Susannah losing her mother but the losses of her ancestors and how they impacted on the family down the line.

There is also a lot of information about the research into hoarder behaviour and the psychology behind it which again is fascinating. Susannah extends this further by drawing parallels with the museum she worked in and their collections of objects, and characters throughout literature who could be considered hoarders in some way.

This book is a thoroughly immersive read, it’s highly emotive, sad, and poignant. A story of a difficult mother/daughter relationship and a daughters quest to find a mothers identity in order to make sense of her own.

I would thoroughly recommend it.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

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4 thoughts on “The Life Of Stuff By Susannah Walker – A Review (Non-Fic)

  1. Amanda – apart from the fact that I see red every time I read “passes away” instead of “died” I found you review stimulating and interesting. Keep reading! Best from James

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    1. I just think ‘passes away’ sounds less harsh than ‘died’ – each to their own I guess. Glad you enjoyed the review

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  2. Hi Amanda,

    I have just read your review, as I have this book on my TBR pile, and I wanted to say thank you for the sensitive way you handled this topic.

    I lost my Mum last month, and am still dealing with all the emotion that brings, and for me I am pleased you used the term ‘passed away’ as oppose to ‘died’.

    For me, and of course this is just my opinion, it is gentler and more peaceful than the other word – she was my Mum, not a faceless, emotionless body, and I absolutely thank you for your sensitivity.

    Like

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