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  • Writer's pictureLilac Mills

The Gingerbread House by Kate Beaufoy


Life in the Gingerbread House is no fairy tale...

When Tess agrees to move into her aged mother-in-law's idyllic country cottage, she sees it as the perfect opportunity to escape the distractions of the city and start work on a novel. However, life in the Gingerbread House is no fairy tale. Tess is utterly unprepared for the reality of caring for Eleanor, who suffers from dementia.

Feeling increasingly isolated, she struggles to cope as Eleanor fluctuates between violent mood swings, child-like dependency and moments of heart-wrenching lucidity. Meanwhile, Tess's teenage daughter Katia is helpless to intercede; in the end she can only watch as things fall apart and a tragedy even closer to home surfaces.

Heart-breaking and hopeful in equal measure, The Gingerbread House addresses a struggle that many families face with compassion, honesty and a gentle humour that becomes so necessary when coping with the impact of dementia.


Not too keen on the main character's voice - seems simultaneously far older than her fourteen years, and quite a bit younger. She talks of glass stones in jewellery (the kids I know would say 'fake' - glass seems a word a middle-aged woman would use), and many of her phrases appear to me to be rather out of place and even archaic (what teenager uses the word "bedfellows"?). Ironically Katia's mentioned s that she doesn't think the novel her mother is writing is very good because of the stilted languages she uses in it that the MC claims would never be used in real life. I really do hope the author was being tongue-in-cheek here...

I'm not too keen on the way the main character talks to the reader either, catapulting me right out of the story.

I can see the reasoning behind both of the above points but I'm still not sure they work, or are needed. The other thing I'm not too keen on is Katia's talks with Charlotte. They grated on me a little, and I do think the reader needed to arrive at the ultimate conclusion on his/her own without that particular device.

Notwithstanding all the above, I did quite enjoy the book. The story is told from Katia's point of view and in some respects she comes across as a normal teenager in her reaction to, and lack of empathy with, her grandmother who she has never had a chance to develop a bond with and who didn't know the woman her grandmother was before this dreadful disease hit. I can also empathise with Tess - I would certainly find it impossible to care for my mother-in-law in such a way...

As for Grannie - she was my favourite character and Katia is quite blunt in her description of the old woman's physical and mental condition, without the blanket of love. Yet there is compassion here, and despair, and a dreadful finality. And though I feel Katia makes some shocking statements, I do feel that some of her comments are relevant.

I'm not sure what to classify this novel as... because of the age of the MC and the style of writing I would suggest YA, but as a woman with very elderly relatives, I related to it too.

About the Author

Kate Beaufoy has an MA in French and English literature from Trinity College Dublin.

As Kate Thompson she has had a dozen novels published, including the Number One bestseller The Blue Hour, which was shortlisted for the RNA award.

Liberty Silk is her first historical novel. It was inspired by real letters written from Europe by her grandmother, Jessie Beaufoy, in the aftermath of the Great War.

Kate has contributed to numerous publications and broadcast media in both Ireland and the UK. A former actress, she was the recipient of a Dublin Theatre Festival Best Actress Award.

She lives some of the year in Dublin and some on the West coast of Ireland, and is happily married with one daughter. Kate is an advanced-level scuba diver, a wild swimmer, and the fond keeper of a bewitching Burmese cat.

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