The House on Fortune Street is the story of two single young women who were close friends in college but have drifted apart. Their histories and circumstances are revealed in stages, at first through Sean, Abigail’s live-in boyfriend, and Cameron, Dara’s father. Their two points of view dovetail with later accounts from Dara and Abigail, exploring the distances that have grown between them in part due to secrets they have kept from each other. The novel begins with Sean, a scholar writing his dissertation on medical references in the poetry of John Keats (1895-1821). Sean’s experiences to some degree parallel those of Keats, and the novel’s four sections loosely echo the structure of Keats’s poem Endymion (1817), while Cameron’s, Dara’s and Abigail’s tales are each informed by a book or literary character. Sean’s section ends with Dara’s suicide; the following three sections shift from Cameron’s memories of Dara’s childhood, through Dara’s work and the beginning of her doomed love affair with a married man, to Abigail’s childhood, her career, and her relationships with her father, Dara, and Sean. Abigail’s final, summing-up meeting with Cameron allows each of them to reveal secrets, confess failings, and bring Dara’s story to a close.
As the novel opens Sean is living with Abigail, a beautiful theater actress who pursued him until he agreed to leave his wife; she owns the house on Fortune Street where the two share the upstairs flat. Abigail has asked him to pay rent, so he agrees to collaborate with his old friend Valentine on a book promoting assisted suicide. Abigail is launching a repertory theater company and constantly travels; when he receives an anonymous letter accusing Abigail of seeing another man he suspects she is involved with Valentine; as soon as their book is complete Valentine confirms the affair (later admitting to Abigail that he sent the anonymous letter) and Sean leaves the Fortune Street house.
In his last weeks at Fortune Street, Sean occasionally runs into Dara, Abigail’s college friend who rents the downstairs flat. Dara has been waiting years for her lover Edward to leave his girlfriend and move in with her. Just before Christmas Sean talks with Dara, but he responds more to her natural gift for listening than to signs that Dara needs a sympathetic ear and tells her about the book on assisted suicide. Shortly after the holidays, Sean enters Dara’s apartment, believing she spent Christmas with her family and intending to make her home more welcoming for her return. He finds Dara’s body and a suicide note torn in small pieces and left in an envelope addressed to her parents. Sean hides the note to spare Dara’s parents the pain of reading it. Recalling their last conversation, he realizes he overlooked her obvious distress and may even have validated her suicidal feelings with his talk of people who, he felt, had justifiably ended their own lives.
In the second section, Dara’s father, Cameron, tells about his marriage to Fiona, and his realization that he was attracted to young girls. Cameron never acted upon his secret interests, but when Dara was ten years old he became obsessed with her best friend, a little girl named Ingrid. Cameron discovers that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author of Alice in Wonderland (1865) under the name Lewis Carroll, photographed young girlssometimes naked. An amateur photographer, Cameron feels an affinity for Dodgson that seems to somewhat justify his own feelings. When Fiona encourages Cameron to pursue photography as a hobby, he welcomes the opportunity to take photographs of Dara and Ingrid or of Ingrid alone. He tells himself that merely taking pictures of the girls is harmless; he can enjoy his passion without any negative effect on the children.
Cameron describes a camping trip Dara will later recall as her last happy childhood memory, involving the MacLeods and Ingrid’s family, including Ingrid’s mother Iris and her teenage sister Carol. During the trip, Cameron unthinkingly snaps a picture of Ingrid, half-naked, changing into a bathing suit. The trip ends in an angry nighttime confrontation on the beach involving Carol, Iris, and Cameron when Carol is found naked with a young man who was camping nearby. Later in recounting the incident to Fiona, Cameron does not tell her that Carol had accused him of an inappropriate interest in her little sister. Iris does not confront Cameron, but she does tell Fiona...
(The entire section is 1831 words.)