Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Esther Campion’s second novel The House of Second Chances includes some of the characters who dominated the storyline in her first novel Leaving Ocean Road although the author states that this second book is not designed to be a sequel.
The House of Second Chances is set predominantly in Ireland, a place where the author grew up before moving several times in her adult life and eventually settling in Australia, firstly in South Australia, the setting for her first book, and later in northern Tasmania. Although the main action for her second novel is in Ireland there are also characters with a link to Australia.
As the title of the book suggests, this latest novel is about second chances, not just for the main characters but most of the characters who have a prominent role in this story. The central theme embraces people whose earlier experiences have left them with emotional scars but who were able to learn from these experiences and be brave enough to open their lives to a second chance.
A lot of emotion has been laid bare in the storyline which includes death, a troubled teenager, deception, family estrangement, a missing child, a debilitating illness, community altruism, the insecurity of being single in middle age and an attraction that could blossom into something deeper and lasting.
Aidan O’Shea is a builder who has embarked on renovating his grandmother’s house in West Cork, a house he has avoided for twenty years. His Sister Ellen, who lives in South Australia, has convinced him to do the work. (Ellen is the key character in Campion’s first novel). Considering the emotions Aiden is contending with as he embarks on this job, one can understand that he would not be impressed to hear that Ellen has asked her friend, Collette Barry to work with him as the designer and decorator. ‘Interior design; what the heck did they need that for? (1) ‘Sure wouldn’t a few fancy cushions in the parlour and a few bits of decent bed linen do the job’(2).
At their first collaboration, Aiden and Collette appear to be complete opposites and each is on the defensive. ‘Aiden couldn’t help but notice the crispness of the paper as Collette slid the sheets out of a plastic sleeve. (while) He gingerly took (out) his own coffee-stained, dog-eared print-out’ (6-7).
Collette is a city-girl, slim and athletic. Aiden on the other hand has let himself go but, when he is lumbered with the neighbour’s huge dog to look after, and has received several comments about his waistline, he comes to the realisation that he needs to take himself in hand.
Although many different issues and characters are mentioned in the storyline, they are all pivotal to the story; like the troubled Scottish teenager who came to stay with his uncle and Collette’s partner in the interior design business, Fabulous Four Walls. While he, himself, found a second chance to embrace a new focus in his life, he also had a part to play in uncovering what happened in the case of the missing girl, Millie, who Aiden often looked after while her mother was at work. The young lad with the debilitating disease was also crucial in solving this case when his family was in London with him for prolonged treatment.
I enjoyed being able to visit with these characters as they overcame some of their issues and embraced their second chances. They seemed so real and this is due to the skill of this relatively new author. I can envisage her next novel, though not a sequel, could embrace the newly renovated house and see Ellen returning to become part of this new venture. That is a book I look forward to reading.
The House of Second Chances
By Esther Campion