Praise for Off-Island
"Thought-provoking, compelling and beautifully written... packs the most enormous punch."
– Linda's Book Bag
Lily Preston, clever beyond her years, is only four when she realises her family is headed for disaster. While she, older sister Mags and younger brother Artie are dragged around America and the world during the 1960s and early ’70s by their military father Jack, he propels their mother, gentle, green-fingered Lauren Rose, to the edge of insanity through mental and physical abuse. A cat-and-mouse game of escape and entrapment ensues, testing Lily’s resilience, resourcefulness and family loyalty to the limit.
Jack, an emotionally scarred war veteran, enlists the help of his equally formidable mother Emma to turn his children against the fragile Lauren Rose and drive her away. Their next mission is to make Lily and her siblings conform to a strict, unforgiving code of behaviour and crush their spirited natures. Rebellion is met with increasingly harsh penalties.
Jack brings new women into his children’s lives, but Lily vows that, no matter what, she will one day trace her real mother, compelled to by the enduring bond between them. Love arrives in the form of high-school sweetheart Diego, who helps her in her quest to break free from Jack and Emma’s control. When their persecution of her reaches bizarre new heights, Lily is forced to stand up to them in public and assert her right to independence, a college education, the chance to fulfil her dream of becoming a writer… once she has achieved the longed-for reunion with her mother.
Marlene Hauser is the American author of Off-Island and originated the award-winning TV film Under the Influence. Marlene holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in the City of New York. She lives in Oxford.
Barbara Katz (Guest Review) - 25 Jul, 2022
Geraniums is a mesmerizing story of family strife and enduring belief. The main character, Lily, manages to deal with a manipulating grandmother, an abusive father and separation from her mother whom she believes she will be reunited with someday. Lily is resilient, capable, and talented. As the ever-increasing conflicts get tougher and tougher, Lily only seems to grow stronger and stronger.
Right from the start, I was entranced with this gripping and moving novel. Impossible to put down. The author writes with a compact and easy-flowing style. The story hurtles along at a quick pace. And long after reading this, I was left contemplating the unsettling impact of this brilliantly revealing novel.
Erica Fisher (Guest Review) - 14 Jan, 2023
It has been quite some time since I have come across a novel that was such a compulsive read. I read ‘Geraniums’ over the weekend and was caught up in the beautifully depicted world of Lily and her very dysfunctional family. And yet, it was quite different from other books about dysfunctional families. There is an attempt to be generous and to analyse the dysfunctionality sympathetically which adds to the depth of the characterisations. The descriptions of the diverse cultures in which the family lives over the years add to the richness of the story. I was taken nostalgically back in time by the detailed and poignant depiction of life in the 60s. Overall, despite the disturbing events in the book, the story is a positive, life affirming one. I am very happy to have read it and will watch out for future novels by this author.
Michael Macauly (Guest Review) - 23 Mar, 2022
Reviewed in the United States on March 16, 2022
A well structured and quick read, this novel pulsates with family drama and enough significantly terrifying events that you’ll find yourself rooting for Lily and her siblings to make it to adulthood. With an underlying faith in education, a stalwart high school sweetheart and through the kindness of strangers, Lily navigates the weak and narcissistic personalities of her father and grandmother and fights for sanity. The reader will rejoice in Lily’s achingly unconditional love for her absent mother and imagine no finer ending than the satisfying one offered. A good reminder to treat others with kindness for you never know what the person standing next to you had to endure before breakfast.
Ann Lucien Nasiri (Guest Review) - 03 Apr, 2022
“Geraniums” is a poignant, heart-wrenching tale of an American family’s travails through the 1960s. Initially the three children, narrated through middle child Lily, are blissfully happy living in Europe while their GI father Jack is posted a road. When they Jack sent back to mid-West America his psychological and physical abuse of each member of the family becomes intolerable, precipitating his loving wife’s nervous breakdown. Jack’s violence is exacerbated by alcoholism and PTSD. Anyone reading this with a similar background will recognise the stunning accuracy of this form of domestic abuse. Punctuated with moments of reprieve, a mother’s tender love and initial joy, this novel is impossible to put down and a quick read. Highly recommended.
Linda's Book Blog (Guest Review) - 04 Apr, 2022
Lily’s life is a struggle.
Geraniums is a beautifully written and compelling literary fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. Marlene Hauser has a style that ensnares the reader because of her ability to step inside the minds of her characters and enable the reader to experience, through them, the events of the novel. There’s a painterly writing style too, with descriptions that place the reader at the heart of the narrative.
The plot is elegantly wrought, with Lily’s perspective leading the reader through the events of her family’s life in such a realistic way that it is clear any generic family could be just as dysfunctional, controlling and abusive as Jack’s so that Geraniums makes the reader realise that we never truly know those around us or understand quite what they may be capable of doing.
The characterisation is a triumph. I wanted to loathe Jack completely and yet Marlene Hauser made sure I understood why he and his vile mother Emma behaved the way they did so that both of them gained my sympathy on occasion, even as I wanted their complete destruction and downfall. The desire for public recognition and personal affirmation after abusive and traumatic pasts is so clear in their behaviours that I think reading Geraniums gives a clarity to the reader about how we shouldn’t be too quick to measure, judge or respond to others.
I loved Lily unreservedly. That’s not to say that she isn’t flawed, being stubborn, duplicitous and devious at times, but again it is circumstance that makes her as she is so that she feels alive and vivid. I was desperate for her to succeed. Although Geraniums spans many years and has quite an extensive cast of secondary characters, it always feels intimate and intense, because each person encountered along the way adds depth to the narrative.
I thought the title Geraniums was inspired. I have no idea if this was deliberate, but with the symbolism for geraniums being happiness and friendship, this is exactly what they represent for Lauren Rose, being literally smashed to pieces even as her dreams are being metaphorically destroyed. Geraniums can also represent cleverness and ingenuity – both traits that Lily has – so that this book feels carefully and meticulously crafted. Not a word is wasted in Marlene Hauser’s exquisite prose.
Whilst the themes of Geraniums are dark and disturbing with abusive relationships and violence at the core, this is not a depressing book. Rather, it feels tender and insightful because, through Lily, the reader finds positivity. Poor mental health, manipulation, coercive relationships, PTSD and crime are certainly major themes, but so too are strength and resilience, loyalty, determination, endeavour and success so that it feels as if all life can be found between the pages of this slim novel.
I really enjoyed Geraniums. It’s one of those stories that remains with the reader long after the book is closed, making them think about its characters and themes and wonder what is happening to them now. Geraniums deserves a wide audience because it is a piercing insight into humanity and what makes us who we are. Don’t miss it.
Tiger Craft (Guest Review) - 02 May, 2022
I read it in two sittings and couldn't put it down!
Wonderful characters that have you fully invested in their journey from page 1.
Narrator Lily's triumph against all odds is very moving and had me weeping out loud at points.
KarensBookBag (Guest Review) - 30 Sep, 2023
I can’t believe such a powerful and moving story has stayed under the radar for over a year. It should be at the top of the bestseller lists, for its subject, plot and its wonderful main character, Lily.
Set in the sixties, the story opens a few decades earlier with a description of Lily’s grandmother, Emma Preston, “M”, as a girl who grows into a malevolent woman, twisted in body and mind by a childhood bout with polio. When her only son Jack marries sweet Lauren Rose, M disapproves, and sets out to destroy her daughter-in-law and family, in particular Lily.
Lily endures all the petty cruelties of her father and grandmother. But M’s campaign grows ever more vicious. Lily will need all her courage, resilience and wit if she is to survive her dysfunctional family.
This was a beautifully told story, sharp and incisive in its portrayal of a very young girl, clever, outgoing and loving, growing up with adults determined to thwart her natural talents. Lily is a character you’ll love from the minute you meet her, a little girl forced to grow up too soon, trying to protect not just her younger brother, but her older sister and mother.
The other characters are enthralling, too. M and Jack are so skilfully drawn that we can see that they are products of their upbringing, their ugliness stemming from tragedies that have befallen them.
But it’s Lily who shines out in this story. Will she bloom, like her mother’s beloved geraniums, or wilt away from lack of being cherished?
I enjoyed this book as a story, but I also took away from it a very powerful message. It opens with M, who meets the challenges she faces by turning sour, bitter and mean. It closes with Lily who faces up to her challenges with a sweet, feisty and loving nature. Sending out cries for help that no-one hears, she learns to help herself. She is an inspiration.