This is the perfect Christmas book. Curl up beside your own Lytel Fire-place and imagine yourself among the comforts of the Shire. In The Hobbit (1937), when the homebody Bilbo Baggins is saved from certain death at the hands of the goblins, the eagle who rescues him asks: “What is finer than flying?” Tolkien writes: “Bilbo would have liked to say: ‘A warm bath and late breakfast on the lawn afterwards’; but he thought it better to say nothing at all.”
In truth, Hardyment has not found much new to say about these literary homes but, like an excellent housekeeper, she rearranges and polishes up the furniture in such a way that you find yourself inclined to linger. Nor is her job always quite as easy or obvious as you might at first think. Literary houses have a disconcerting habit of either disappearing halfway through a text, or switching places with an uncanny twin... The best fictional houses, Hardyment argues, are complex, protean characters that act decisively on a novel’s plot, rather than mere moodsetters or expressive cartoons.