In The Paper House, Anna Spargo-Ryan explores the intricacies of family, grief, mental illness, and what happens when all three of these combine in an unexplainable, incomprehensible manner. Heather, Spargo-Ryan’s protagonist, suffers an incredible loss at the beginning of the novel, and before long, we are swept up on a journey that looks forwards, backwards, and most importantly, inside Heather’s very being.
The Paper House is brimming with characters, but they don’t overwhelm each other, or encroach on anyone else’s space. There is Dave, Heather’s husband, a school teacher who shares in Heather’s grief – albeit in a different manner. There is Fleur, Heather’s older sister – strong willed, brash, with a heart of gold. There is Bruce, Heather’s father, and Shelley, Heather’s mother, whose interactions have shaped the ways in which Heather sees the world.
And then there is Sylvia, the kind natured old lady who lives down the road, who bakes cookies and makes Christmas roasts; Rupert, the owner of the local store; Ashlok and his dog, Harriet, and of course, Noel, a figure of wonder, mystery, and wisdom in his own right. These characters all wind in and out of each others’ lives, wreaking havoc and bringing joy in their own unique ways. The magic of Spargo-Ryan’s writing allows you to identify with at least one of her characters, regardless of your background or life experience.
This slew of characters forms a misshapen kind of family. This family, though rickety and creaking at the beginning of the novel, comes together in a haphazard way, pieces of a jigsaw that don’t quite fit – but pieces that eventually begin to figure out how they can work together. Spargo-Ryan explores the difficulties and joys of such a family by crafting a narrative that is loud and quiet, all at the same time. There is a sharp insightfulness in her depictions of mental illness (in whatever form it may be) not only on the sufferer, but also on those around them. The Paper House will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you smile to yourself with that tinge of recognition – and most of all, it will provide you with a story that will stay with you, long after you have turned the last page.