I have long admired Margaret Forster's writing: she's clear, straightforward, understated, quietly compelling; not showy, loud or 'clever'. I've read her biography of Daphne du Maurier and several novels, chief among them Lady's Maid, and Keeping the World Away, about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Gwen John respectively (see this post), ones to look out for if you don't already know them.
Her latest book is a memoir, My Life in Houses, a portrait of the homes she's lived in and an account of their significance to each stage of her life, and I commend it to you for its author's clear-sightedness, self-awareness, level-headed pragmatism and lack of sentimentality.
The book begins with a quotation from Leonard Woolf of which the following is an extract:
"The house - in which I include its material and spiritual environment - has an immense influence on its inhabitants ... what has the deepest and most permanent effect upon oneself and one's way of living is the house in which one lives. The house determines the day-to-day, minute-to-minute quality, colour, atmosphere, pace of one's life; it is the framework of what one does, of what one can do, of one's relations with people ..."
Margaret Forster charts her life from house to house, from growing up in Carlisle, to her lodgings in Oxford (college life having been tried and found wanting), to a rented flat in the Vale of Health in Hampstead where newly married to fellow writer Hunter Davies she finds a situation close to perfection, and thence to a house which, despite unpromising beginnings becomes the settled, much-loved family home and a place of refuge and content. Those are the bones of the book; you must read it to see how - simply but profoundly - they are fleshed out.
Reflecting on the particular nature and significance of home - in this instance a house she has lived in for most of her adult life - Margaret Forster says "Yet somehow the house itself, its very fabric, is of importance. An intimate knowledge of its layout, of how all the rooms are arranged and used, stimulates a weird pleasure. I know this house. It has been changed by us not only in the real, practical sense of altering its appearance and internal geography, but by our living within it. Instinct guides me everywhere. I don't have to wonder where I am going or what I will find. The house doesn't need to remind me of what has taken place, why certain rooms are of a significance nobody else could possibly guess. Take the building away and it is alarming to realise memories might not be enough. Something indefinable would be lost. I need the house's influence - the 'influence' that Leonard Woolf thought 'might well be the subject of a scientific investigation'. ... Our house has not exactly moulded me. But, on the other hand, it has provided a structure and a privacy which have been of immeasurable value. I was not mistaken, as a child, to believe that having a house, never mind a room, of my own was, for me, hugely important.
"... My house is like a garment, made to my exact measurements, draped around me in the way I like. I never want to change it."