FeaturedContemporary Fiction

House on Fire


Must read 🏆

A tough but moving story about the challenges of mental illness and its effects on family. A meaningful read that can open minds.

House on Fire is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s the story of a family in crisis, tackling mental illness on several fronts. Here’s what to expect from this current and very poignant read.

Bernadette’s father has dementia, but years before his diagnosis, he made his wife and children swear to never put him in a nursing home. But his behaviour is becoming dangerous, and Bee’s mother ends up asking her about assisted suicide—anything to avoid breaking their promise.

While tormented by the idea of killing her father and worrying about what her mother is capable of now, Bernadette also has to deal with her son, who’s prone to violent outbursts. She’s at the end of her tether and only has her pagan community to lean on, her husband being a part of it.

To top it all off, Bernadette is a nurse, running herself into the ground to make ends meet, her anxiety and depression making everything that much harder to deal with. House on Fire is a bittersweet tale of navigating mental illness in a society that can’t quite handle it either.

Bernadette is very relatable and difficult not to feel sorry for. She’s hit with one calamity after another, testing her limits in terms of what she’s willing to do for family. The rare moments of peace or joy made me sigh with her.

Most of the narrative is based on dialogue, which is fluid and natural, smoothly immersing the reader in the plot and characters. The first-person narration is just as effective in putting the reader in Bee’s shoes and really illustrating what it’s like to live with mental illness among many other problems, while also being forced to contemplate assisted suicide for a loved one.

The primary theme that emerges involves the ethics of killing someone to end their suffering. Bernadette encounters different viewpoints related to life and death decisions, including Christian and pagan.

But House on Fire is meaningful in many other ways, like discussing the challenges of managing mental health issues that don’t have a miraculous cure. There’s even a very striking contrast between how young and elderly people are treated when they have such problems, especially when they’re labelled as dangerous.

Another element worth noting is the narrative’s pagan influence. This culture's representation is refreshing and insightful yet grounded, showing its beauties and flaws through Bee’s nostalgic, if disillusioned, perspective.

What brings all these features together is a well-written story. Despite very minor issues, like a jumble of character names at the beginning and frequent jumps between past and present events, the overall composition is so neat, elegant, and strong that they don’t matter.

The writing is easy to read and immersive, particularly impactful and quotable in key moments. Everything works well together, guiding the reader through a plot that’s unsettling and moving in equal measure.

House on Fire is a must-read for fans of meaningful fiction. It touches on current affairs related to family, mental illness, and healthcare, in addition to the morality of assisted suicide. This is the kind of book that opens your mind and makes you think about difficult topics.

Reviewed by

Book Breath is a literary blog where I mainly review debut works of 3-5 stars. I also rate and review books in general on Discovery, Goodreads, Amazon, and more. As a beta reader too, I just love finding new gems. Credentials: BA in English Literature, indie creative writer of 15+ years.

December 25th 11:00am

About the author

D. Liebhart is a nurse and writer. She writes (and sometimes lives) stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, where they learn that life is rarely predictable and answers to the most complex questions are almost never black and white. view profile

Published on March 31, 2023

Published by

80000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Reviewed by