Review of Holly Pester’s The Lodgers: An Examination of the Challenging Existence of a Subletter
British poet and academic Holly Pester’s first novel explores the experience of losing oneself when lacking a true sense of home. In The Lodgers, an anonymous narrator returns to a town where she has arranged to sublet a less-than-ideal flat. The living room is an awkward shape and the entire place reeks of men’s shower gel and instant noodles. Despite these shortcomings, the narrator chose this flat because it overlooks her mother’s house, known to her as Moffa. However, her mother is nowhere to be found when she goes to visit, and her flatmate Kav is also absent. As the narrator’s unease grows, Pester’s first-person prose maintains its crisp and playful tone. The narrator admits to having trouble sleeping in her new bed and feeling on edge.
The peculiarity is amplified when the narrator reminisces about her past sublet in a different town. These segments are presented in the second person, with the narrator speaking to the current tenant and envisioning them behaving just as she did in the past.
She resided with a single mother and her daughter, in a living space where she was asked to vacate between the hours of 9am and 6pm. During this time, the mother would use the area as a workspace for her beauty clients. Initially, the woman’s dynamic with her landlord was friendly and they would often chat and have late-night wine together. However, things changed and it became clear that this friendship was not genuine and there was an imbalance in their interactions.
The central character in Pester is constantly restless, with her mind constantly racing. This can be disorienting for readers. However, the novel poses the question of whether she could be any other way. The narrator reflects that to live in a temporary residence means putting aside one’s own needs and simply existing without much substance. It is not truly living as oneself. This unconventional novel conveys an important political message.
Ellen Peirson-Hagger holds the role of assistant culture editor at the New Statesman.
Holly Pester’s book, The Lodgers, is available from Granta for £14.99. To show your support for the Guardian and Observer, you can purchase your own copy at guardianbookshop.com. Additional fees may apply for delivery.