[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]
From the publisher's page:
David is thirteen and confused. His mum has gone off with her lover and sent David to his grandparents in Bondi to give her new relationship some "space". Sometimes it breaks your heart to understand.
David's grandfather, Jimmy, a Jewish war veteran and survivor of the Thai-Burma railway, is seventy. Haunted by the ghosts of long-dead comrades, the only person he can confide in is a thirteen-year-old from a different world. Sometimes it breaks your heart to be understood.
Spirit House is a story of Changi and the Thai-Burma railway, of old men living with the horrors of their past, and a boy making sense of the daunting business of growing up.
Funny, wise, disturbing and deeply moving, Spirit House is the brilliant new novel by the award-winning author of King of the Cross.
Stephen Romei for "The Australian": "Mark Dapin is best known as a columnist and feature writer for the Fairfax press, a role where making stuff up is called for only occasionally...On the strength of his second novel, Spirit House, he should make the leap to full-time fiction. If this book is not on next year's literary prize lists I will be surprised...Dapin's first novel, King of the Cross (2009) was a high-rent crime thriller: gritty, smart and funny but with a soggy patch towards the end. Some of its characters have supporting roles in Spirit House, but this is a much different and more ambitious book, one that cares about surprising things, such as love and beauty."
Rob Minshull for ABC Bisbane: "A modern Australian classic deserves the title because of the story it tells, the way it is told and the way in which reflects who we are. Authors like Murray Bail or David Malouf, Bryce Courtney or Colleen McCullough are great Australian writers and books like Voss by Patrick White or Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, The Drowner by Robert Drewe or The Secret River by Kate Grenville are classic Australian novels...Spirit House is also one of those novels and Mark Dapin is one of those writers. This is a book destined for classic status in every sense of the word. It is powerful, poignant, moving, tragic and intensely distressing. It is a feast of a story which will almost simultaneously move you to tears and bring a smile to your face."
Sue Turnbull for "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Fairfax columnist Mark Dapin is editor of The Penguin Book of Australian War Writing, which helps to explain the impulse behind this novel, which opens with an anonymous diary entry from 'Siam' in 1941. Written in the purple prose of a man pleased to parade his education, this passage introduces key themes that will play out in the present of 1990. The first is that of the Spirit House itself, an altar intended to placate whatever gods there might be to placate; and second, the savage beating of a soldier in Changi by Korean guards under orders from the Japanese. Spirituality and savagery are brutally juxtaposed, a strategy Dapin uses throughout the book, punctuated by moments of high comedy...Dapin's achievement is to bring the past to life through memorable moments and characters in whom one can believe. The use of comedy to juxtapose the brutality of war is well measured, leading to a resolution with the past and a kind of grace for those in the present. There are times, however, when the structure of the narrative seems a tad overwrought. Indeed, I wonder whether the intermittent use of the anonymous war diary (the author of which is revealed in the final pages) is necessary. Jimmy and David might be the only witnesses to war we need."
"Web Wombat" weblog: "Spirit House by Mark Dapin is about demons, demons that haunt and torment an elderly war veteran's thoughts and memories as he tries to come to terms with the loss, pain, and intense grief he suffered from events that occurred over 40 years ago when he was a WWII prisoner of war in the notorious Changi prison...For those who will, thankfully, never experience the horrors of war it is beneficial to be able to gain some small insight into what so many of our forefathers went through and then in many cases carried to their graves."
Chris Flynn on ABC Radio National's "Book Show": "Sometimes we have a tendency to forget the breadth of talented writers we have in Australia. Take Fairfax columnist Mark Dapin for example, who is one of the country's most recognisable and consistently funny journalists. Those who enjoy his column's stylistic footnote-heavy quirks will have flocked to his unconventional first novel King of the Cross which rightly won 2010's Ned Kelly First Fiction Award. In it, a cadet reporter from the Australian Jewish Times interviews Jake Mendoza, legendary Sydney crime lord. The resulting memoir is a sly wink to real world gangland figures...Mendoza pops up again as an enigmatic bit player in Dapin's second novel Spirit House which is frankly just wonderful. Why? It's funny, truthful, upsetting, moving and sheds a whole new light on an aspect of Australian war history that I thought had been amply covered a hundred times already, namely Changi prison in Singapore and the construction of the Thai Burmese railway by Allied prisoners."
Rebecca Butterworth for "artsHub": "Spirit House is probably the best example of what a fiction writer can do for fact - not only bring it alive, but drag it to its feet and boot-camp it into the best shape of its life - that I have ever experienced. And 'experienced' is a more accurate word to apply to Spirit House than 'read'...Spirit House is worth reading on so many levels; it's difficult to focus on just one. Dapin takes the novelist's goals of heart, humour, and significance and shows off with them. This book is about pain - significant, lifetime pain - and it is also incredibly funny. "
The author describes the story behind the book for "Readings".