The Hoarder’s Widow is a touching contemporary about compulsive hoarding and how that affects the lives of people living with the hoarder.
Disclaimer – Many thanks to author for review copy.
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Suddenly-widowed Maisie sets out to clear her late husband’s collection; wonky furniture and balding rugs, bolts of material for upholstery projects he never got round to, gloomy pictures and outmoded electronics, other people’s trash brought home from car boot sales and rescued from the tip. The hoard is endless, stacked into every room in the house, teetering in piles along the landing and forming a scree up the stairs. It is all part of Clifford’s waste-not way of thinking in which everything, no matter how broken or obscure, can be re-cycled or re-purposed into something useful or, if kept long enough, will one day be valuable. He had believed in his vision as ardently as any mystic in his holy revelation but now, without the clear projection of his vision to light it up for her as what it would be, it appears to Maisie more grimly than ever as what it is: junk.
As Maisie disassembles his stash she is forced to confront the issues which drove her husband to squirrel away other people’s rubbish; after all, she knows virtually nothing about his life before they met. Finally, in the last bastion of his accumulation, she discovers the key to his hoarding and understands – much too late – the man she married.
Then, with empty rooms in a house which is too big for her, she must ask herself: what next?
contemporary about compulsive hoarding
The Hoarder’s Widow is contemporary fiction about the life journey of forty-eight year old Maisie who lived with husband who had a compulsive hoarding disorder for 20 years. Now after his death, she feels alone and lost in a house full of junk that was responsible for her husband’s death, dealing with grief, guilt of wanting to get rid of the junk that are only remainings of her husband, and at the same time coming across a stash of her husband’s past that he never shared to her. It made that belief true, “it takes a whole life to know a person and still, you don’t know them completely“.
I had trouble getting into the book. The writing was good but there were lots of descriptions of the house and hoards with many adjectives and long paragraphs with only separators indicating the change of chapters/scenarios. iIt made the pace too slow for my liking. Once I got used to writing, I found the story touching and beautiful. I actually loved the concept. I don’t think I read a book about hoarding disorder before.
Most of the story is written in the third person narrative from Maisie’s perspective. It slowly eased readers into her life. There are intermittent past sections that showed how she met Clifford, how was her life before she met him, how they found their current house, its condition, her belief in Clifford and hope and dream that helped in understanding her mindset and situation that over the time changed because of Clifford’s mental health and his obsession of hoarding junks.
It hurt to see how Maisie has to prioritize his husband’s wishes and need over her own wish. At first, I wasn’t happy with how quick she was in defending Clifford even though it was clear to see how unhappy she was with Clifford’s obsession and habits that restricted her life to the house and her duty towards him and their children. Even her kids weren’t happy with the condition of the house and they too could see how their father kept Maisie in prison of hoard. No vacation, no solo day trips, no friends or social circle, and no relationship with neighbors! It amazed me she didn’t go crazy too or never thought of leaving Clifford.
Her life literally felt suffocating but she was a fighter and survivor. She really loved Clifford and believed in him, could see his faults but had no say in it so she made her gardens her sanctuary but now that Clifford was dead she slowly realized how really alone she was with no knowledge of the outside world.
It was amazing to see her determination and will to finally make her house and life of her own but it wasn’t easy to let go of years of habits. It was natural to feel guilty to let go of Clifford’s things, constant feeling of betraying her husband by seeing faults in him, doubting his views, and now doing everything he didn’t like – clearing house of junks, selling them and throwing them out, making new friends, interacting with neighbors, drinks and dinner at the pub, and spending money. I could feel her shock of finding out they were actually wealthy and her anger towards Clifford for making her and their kids live like a poor.
What surprised me most is Maisie didn’t actually know the real Clifford or the past that affected him so deeply that it made him the way he was. I can’t believe she never pursued him to know more about his childhood or life before their marriage. She didn’t even know what were his things he brought to their new house that no one was allowed to look at and they all blindly respected his demand and space. (if it was me I would be itching to check them when my husband is sleeping) She never questioned his compulsive hoarding disorder either.
The secondary characters were interesting too. It was interesting to read Maisie’s kid’s perspective towards their life, it showed how they too suffered along with Maisie and I loved how they have empathy and love for Maisie and wanted her to live the life she always wanted. It was great to meet Maisie’s new friends who I think we will get to know more about in the next books in the series.
I loved the second half more which showed the transformation in Maisie, the new Maisie, and revelations of Clifford’s past. It was natural to feel shock and anger and betrayal when she finally found the truth of his past. I think she shouldn’t blame only herself for not pushing him to know about his past, Clifford was equally responsible as she had a right to know everything about him. Her emotions and how she dealt with the revelation was realistic and touching. I knew Harringtons are important in story and they somehow had more relations with Clifford than his employer but didn’t know how until it was revealed in this part.
There are intermittent chapters with Clifford’s perspective that helped in knowing his character much better. Reading his POV along with the revelation of his past, made me feel for him and changed my view towards him. Not completely, but like Maisie, I could see why he was the way he was and how he kept Maisie close to him and in the house all the time.
The theme and layers in the book are well-written. I loved the way the author showed the danger of hoarding, how dangerous it can be to live in a house filled with junk, what kind of hazards it can cause to people living in such house, and also going behind the cause of the disorder through Clifford’s story. The author also touched on the subject of mental health and how it was dealt with in the 20th century when people couldn’t name the disorder nor believed in treatment and how that affected characters’ lives.
Why 3-3.5 stars-
As I said it took me long to get into the book. First half of the book was too slow with lots of descriptions and a slow journey of Masie’s life. I’m not a fan of too many adjectives and too long paragraphs. I also felt the chapters about Maisie’s trip that familiarised readers with her new friends was too long. It felt like taking me away from the main story. I think it was also necessary to introduce them as the next books are on those widows but that trip could be shorter.
Overall, The Hoarder’s Widow is a touching contemporary about compulsive hoarding and how that affects the lives of people living with the hoarder with a well-written theme and layers.
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