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Book Review: The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges

Book Review: The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges

Reclusive Myra Malone has spent most of her thirty-four years on earth hidden away in her attic. From her remote cabin in the Arizona mountains, she works on the titular miniscule mansion – an intriguing dolls’ house (though ask Myra and she’ll tell you: “The Mansion is not a dollhouse, folks. It’s just not.”) that’s a source of fascination for the thousands of readers of her blog. Aside from her best friend Gwen, Myra’s blog posts – where she details her work on the mansion and shares insights into her creative process – are her only connection to the world. That is until the future of the only home she’s ever known is threatened and suddenly Myra is forced to let the outside world in.

On the other side of the country in Virginia is Alex Rakes. Also thirty-four, he’s returned to his hometown to help his ailing father with the family furniture business. When he encounters two customers trying to recreate one of the mansion’s rooms, Alex is shocked to realise that the mansion is an exact miniature replica of his actual home. It was handed down from his grandmother who disappeared when he was a child. Bemused and intrigued, Alex reaches out to Myra and they begin corresponding over email. Together, the two lonely, young souls unravel the entwined stories and lives that connect them – as well as the extraordinary mysteries of the mansion.

Told across multiple time periods and through three unique perspectives, The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone is a mystery, a family drama and a love story, with a touch of the paranormal adding an extra thread of curiosity to the intergenerational tale. Myra and Alex are the book’s initial focus and they’re intriguing protagonists. They’re both old souls at heart, but despite only being in their mid-thirties, neither of them are living their best lives. Due to a traumatic event in her childhood, Myra is terrified of the world and has tucked herself safely away from all the things that could hurt her. Unfortunately, that also means she’s closed herself off from all the joys that life has to offer. Alex, on the other hand, has experienced the wonders of the world, but the tethers of his fractured family and childhood home have drawn him back. Myra and Alex might be complete strangers when they start exchanging emails but – as they soon discover – they might just be what the other has been searching for all along.

Myra didn’t mention that the house was never really finished, because she’d never really found all of it. New rooms would sometimes appear overnight, blank canvases in three dimensions, sometimes the size of a closet, sometimes a ballroom. She would spend days or weeks completing them, and the next morning, find them gone.”

The third perspective weaving Myra and Alex’s histories together is the story of Willa Rakes, Alex’s grandmother, who’s intrinsically linked to the mansion he grew up in but who vanished one day without a trace. We first meet Willa as she sails across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Queen Mary and meets the charismatic man she’ll later settle down with. Like Alex and Myra, Willa is an old soul but for altogether different reasons. She understands the mysterious magic of the mansion better than anyone and we follow Willa as she finds the great love she didn’t know she was searching for, only to have it stolen from her by WWII. Everything that happens in Willa’s life will have a direct result on Myra and Alex’s lives many years later, but just how does the mansion fit in to all this?

Whilst the specifics of the ancient magic that fuels the mansion – both the full-scale house and its miniature version – aren’t ever properly revealed, it remains an enchanting presence throughout the story. To Willa, it’s a part of her heart and soul. To Alex, it’s his childhood home and sanctuary. To Myra it’s the miniature axis her small, secluded world revolves around. To readers, it’s an enigma. Though its vagueness might frustrate those who prefer a more cut-and-dried approach to magic, the secrets of the mansion aren’t really the point of this story. Audrey Burges’ debut is ultimately a tale of human connection and how a home can be a feeling or a person, as much as it can be a place.

Love and friendship play a vital part in the story too – whether it’s the heart breaking, soul-redeeming love between Willa and her husband Ford, or the unexpected relationship that develops between Myra and Alex, which feels like a life raft when they both need it most. Love comes in the form of supportive friends too, particularly in Myra’s staunch supporter and best friend Gwen, who gently and surreptitiously nudges Myra towards opportunities that will enrich and open up her solitary existence. It must be difficult for someone so outgoing and extrovert to understand Myra’s reclusiveness, but it’s a testament to their friendship that Gwen never gives up on Myra.

The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone is an imaginative novel written with a delicate, sensitive touch. In keeping with Myra’s deliberate, unhurried existence, it isn’t a fast-paced story, though the end shifts gear abruptly, wrapping things up too neatly in a way that doesn’t feel entirely earned. Yet it’s still an incredibly thought-provoking and hopeful book, built on a poignant foundation of love, family, legacy and magical realism. It’s likely to be one of the most unique books you’ll read all year.


The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone was published by Macmillan on 1 June 2023

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