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Book Review: House Of Windows By Alexia Casale

Book Review: House Of Windows By Alexia Casale

What attracted me to House of Windows was the fact that it’s a book set at Cambridge university and I’m always curious about the way that Oxbridge is portrayed in literature and on screen. This portrayal can often be skewed or very stereotypical, as in films such as The Riot Club, so I was curious to read Casale’s interpretation, particularly as she actually attended the university herself. This book is about Nick, a fifteen year old boy who is admitted to Cambridge. Nick didn’t fit in at school but he finds socialising at Cambridge even harder given that he’s 15, well below the drinking age, and smarter than his tutorial partners. He joins the rowing team as a cox and things seem to be going well, but of course it wasn’t meant to last…

The book I read before this was Luckiest Girl Alive (see review here), a book in which there are no likeable characters and no one you can really relate to. I found the complete opposite in House of Windows. This book is all about character; much more so than plot. The protagonist, Nick, is a smart arse. He insists again and again that he’s not a genius, he just works hard and he isn’t satisfied that his work is graded with greek letters instead of percentages. At first you find you find him a little irritating, but then you get to know Nick better, you understand where he’s come from and how he’s got to where he is today and you start to feel for him. His Dad is never around and he finds it difficult to make friends so he works very hard to keep himself occupied. He is slightly strange but he’s not so strange that he shouldn’t be able to find friends, but the odds (mostly his age) are stacked against him.

Nick isn’t the only character that I loved in this book. There’s also Tim, a PhD student who keeps an eye on Tim and Professor Goswin, a tutor at Trinity Hall who was also around when Tim’s father and god-father attended the same college. Both are unique characters with stories and troubles of their own and Casale manages to give us enough information about them to make them fully padded out characters, but not so much that the plot deviates from Nick’s own story.

House of Windows is a little slow and it takes a while for anything to happen as a lot of the book is description and Casale setting it up, but I think it’s well worth the wait. There are a few twists and turns that are unexpected and you can see Nick’s character develop throughout the novel in face of these challenges and his new life in general. By the time I’d passed half way, I was tearing through this book at quite a pace. As a reader I felt really attached to Nick and I was desperate to find out how his story ends. He’s not the most ‘likeable’ character but he’s one of those people that you grow fond of, and then grow to love.

All in all, the portrayal of Cambridge in this novel seems pretty accurate. Obviously Cambridge and Oxford are still unique places but a lot of the systems and language is the same, or at least, similar, so I think it’s fair for me to say that Casale has captured the spirit of Cambridge as a university perfectly. There’s quite a lot of description of how the Cambridge system works, which I really enjoyed and I think is important for those reading it that don’t already know anything about it. It’s a strange world, one that takes time to wrap your head around, but Casale’s beautiful writing makes it easy to get to know this small town and university.

House of Windows by Alexia Casale is a coming-of-age drama, but an atypical one, given that it’s about a 15 year old ‘coming of age’ at university. Through Nick, we learn about friendships family, new beginnings and saying goodbye. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who’s is either at university or going soon as Casale captures the sense of isolation and insecurity that most of us have felt at some point or another. However, the two things that really make this book a winner are Casale’s writing and Nick. I’ve never read anything by this author before but I was stunned by how well she captured the Oxbridge environment and her characters’ feelings. Casale is now one of my favourite YA authors and I can’t wait to read The Bone Dragon!

*This book was received for free in exchange from the publisher for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

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Laura is a culture and travel blogger based in London. She studied French at Oxford University and now studies Law in London. She’s an avid reader and traveller and loves to combine the two with literary travel. Find her tips and reviews on the best reads, eats and destinations on whatshotblog.com.

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  1. 22nd October 2015 / 8:36 PM

    Ohh what an interesting sounding read, I love reading books where you know the area they are set within. x

    • 27th October 2015 / 4:00 PM

      Me too! I wish more of the books I read were set in the UK rather than America .. We’re getting there, slowly but surely!

  2. Laura
    22nd October 2015 / 9:31 PM

    Sounds like a great read. I have so many books waiting to be read on my kindle! xxx

    • 27th October 2015 / 4:00 PM

      Me too but on my year abroad I’m determined to make a dent in my to-be-read pile!

  3. Tori Gabriel
    22nd October 2015 / 10:00 PM

    This sounds like an interesting book. The main character sounds intriguing though I don’t think I’d be overly taken by the description of Oxbridge.

  4. 22nd October 2015 / 10:26 PM

    It sounds like a great read – I’m off to add it to my list!

  5. 23rd October 2015 / 12:00 AM

    I love to read books where I know the place where they’re set. Somehow it makes it all a bit more real and much more easy to get lost in it !

  6. 23rd October 2015 / 8:28 PM

    This is amazing creative photo, I wish I could read more books as currently have no time for any 🙁

  7. Zena's Suitcase
    23rd October 2015 / 9:35 PM

    This sounds like an interesting read. My son is applying to Cambridge at the moment so this might be worth a read

    • 27th October 2015 / 4:01 PM

      Oh yes definitely in that case! What is your son applying for? Best of luck to him 🙂

  8. 23rd October 2015 / 11:07 PM

    This sounds like a really interesting book – I am going to have to add this to my to read pile. I have just read a book set in Oxford Uni (well in part) and that was really interesting too =)

  9. Lina
    24th October 2015 / 12:21 AM

    This sounds like a great and really relevant book – I bet it is popular with Cambridge students.

  10. Beautyqueenuk
    24th October 2015 / 1:16 PM

    I love the photo you have taken and it does sound like quite an interesting book to read! x

  11. Ickle Pickle
    24th October 2015 / 10:02 PM

    This sounds a great book – I do wish I had time to read for pleasure, but I am so super busy right now :/ Kaz x

  12. Andreea Samoilă
    24th October 2015 / 10:55 PM

    It sounds like a great book! I’ll add it to my list.

  13. 25th October 2015 / 2:13 AM

    Sounds like a fab and interesting book! I too read a book recently with no likeable characters, can’t think of anything worse when reading book. Glad this one had likeable characters!

  14. 25th October 2015 / 8:28 AM

    Sounds like an interesting read, I wish I had more time in my life for books, maybe when the kids are a little older!

  15. 26th October 2015 / 12:01 PM

    Oh I think this would be lovely to read if you were planning on going to uni to Oxford or Cambridge x

    • 27th October 2015 / 3:59 PM

      I agree! It’s a great way for uni students to understand a bit more about the vibe of their university.

  16. mummyslittlemonkey
    29th October 2015 / 1:39 AM

    I didn’t grow up in the UK (or even the Northern Hemisphere) so have always been fascinated with Oxbridge; what do you mean it’s not just like The Riot Club?! 😉 x

  17. BuildYourOwnEmpire
    23rd April 2016 / 8:13 AM

    Wow, sounds like a really interesting book, I might actually read it, I keep saying I’ll go back to reading, yet I never do 🙁
    I love it how you do book reviews!

  18. 24th April 2016 / 4:39 PM

    I was looking for a good book, this might be it. I’m going to give it a try. Even though I can’t really find free time. Thanks for the great review 🙂

  19. 24th April 2016 / 6:14 PM

    Interesting book! I will have a look for it! I’m not in university but I do experience the feeling of isolation of my own… would be interesting to read how the character of this book will figure out how to came through it!

  20. Bernadette
    24th April 2016 / 6:17 PM

    This looks interesting….could be something to add to my summer reading list, which is ever growing.

  21. Rodanthi Dimou
    24th April 2016 / 6:42 PM

    This book sounds interesting! My niece is a student, so I think this would make an excellent present for her! I will also add it to my reading list, which is very very long at the moment… 🙂

  22. Carrie Chady Rundhaug
    25th April 2016 / 7:39 AM

    This book sounds interesting! I think I will check it out! Im always looking for a good book to read!

  23. 25th April 2016 / 10:00 AM

    This sounds interesting. I’m a big fan of books. I need to add it to my list.

  24. Jessica Hughes
    25th April 2016 / 12:23 PM

    How interesting! I love a good book, this may be next on my list!

  25. 25th April 2016 / 1:41 PM

    The plot of the book reminds me of one of those student movies that you see on tv. I can’t say I have ever read a book that deals with this subject and it’s definitely interesting how the main character is only 15 when he joins uni. I would give this book a go.

  26. Eugenia Nazarova
    25th April 2016 / 6:18 PM

    Seems like a very interesting book, I love the plot! I think it would be very helpful for those who want to study at Cambridge or Oxford! It’s a great way to feel the spirit of the university! Thanks for the review!

  27. Francis Powell
    20th May 2016 / 11:53 AM

    My father was a student of Cambridge university, great place…and setting for a book…

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