Dinner with a Book: The High House

Dinner with a Book: The High House

Friday nights are not what they used to be. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Cross your heart and tell me honestly –  are you sure you want your pre-lockdown Friday nights back? 

I guess that depends on how you spent them. All night bar-hopping can be fun, yes, but how much do you miss waking up to that slap of remorse on Saturday morning?

Going to movies is certainly missed – but thanks to Netflix at least there are options. What I am longing for most, though, what I’ve truly got an appetite for, is dinner somewhere nice. Flickering candles, starched napkins, the background buzz of fellow diners. I miss the leisurely perusing of a menu, now replaced with the wearied scanning of instructions on yet another supermarket deal.

Guess what – those dinner places miss us too; and more than that – they need our support as they struggle to stay afloat. The once guilty ritual of a takeaway has become a good deed! Tap in to those karma points and order something local. 

What ‘Dinner with a Book’ will do is provide you with a delicious theme and good company. ‘Company’? I hear you ask. 

But no, we won’t accompany you ourselves, and we won’t suggest you break the rules with illicit meet-ups. For what is better company than a good book? 

Let’s start this Lunar year with a new routine: stop by your library, get the book, then pick up that takeaway. Come home, set up the solo dinnertable of your dreams, and live your Fridays anew.


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Jessie Greengrass  –  The High House

There was a time, pre Covid-19, when people still cared for other things. Dressing up for work. Planning social outings. Avoiding single-use plastics. Now that we are getting jabbed and are ready to put the short-term survival mode on hold, let’s tone down celebrating in pub gardens and take a moment to recall how doomed we are, ecologically speaking. Because make no mistake, even though some glimpses of hope (and dolphins in Venice) appeared in the beginning of lockdown 1.0, we’re still headed in the direction of ecological disaster no matter how many air miles were cut back.  

And there’s a whole new genre of cli-fi to keep us properly terrified (with such books as The Wall by John Lanchester, Weather by Jenny Offill and The New Wilderness by Diane Cook getting nominated for literary prizes). This April it’s Jessie Greengrass and The High House, which tells the tale of a small group trying to survive in a flooded holiday village in England.  Grandy, a dexterous old man, and Sally, his spirited and austere granddaughter, lived in this village all their lives, taking care of empty holiday homes throughout the year. When ecological disasters become routine events, a couple of environmental activists who owned a house on the hill, ask them to set it up for sustainable living and to take care of it, until their kids, Caro and Pauly, would arrive to live there. They want to create a refuge in case the world changed so drastically that cities would be destroyed.

What Jessie Greengrass excels in expressing is how a failure to act collectively is embedded in our current lifestyles. Even though we are aware of things, Seaspiracy and David Attenborough don’t shake us from procrastinating. We’re mesmerised and horrified, but we are still sat at home, rummaging in the popcorn bag.

Caro, whose parents are actively travelling around the world to ecological forums and conferences, is acutely aware of what is going to happen, and yet she finds that there is nothing to do apart from parenting her little brother Pauly, who is left in her care. Isn’t it funny how the idea of having a child is considered to be environmentally selfish and yet children are the one reason to care even more?

One evening Caro receives a call from her dad asking her to take Pauly and go to The High House, and it’s the last time she speaks to him. Caro packs light and takes her little brother’s hand and they travel by train to the village. The place is already empty, and there are no taxis, so they walk towards the house. For the last few miles she carries him. On the porch they are met by Sally and her grandfather, the people they knew nothing about, who will become their new family.

There is an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and survival guilt that they share. The author keeps asking again and again: who is going to be saved? Is it forgivable to choose? Caro and Sally often spot homeless people walking in the distance and yet they don’t let them into the house. They always do nothing. But doing nothing is a choice as well. 

Speaking of choices: tonight let’s aim for the minimum foodprint possible – and have vegan. Thankfully, there are plenty of options now, and you don’t have to order plain tomato pasta every time. Your choice is a link in the alternative food chain: more support for vegan cooking – less support for meat industry – a step away from the scary world of The High House. 

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‘Dinner with a Book’ is a new Londnr feature created & written by book blogger, Yelena from Foliovore.

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