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About The Book

Shortlisted for the 2021 Costa Novel Award

In this powerful, highly anticipated novel from an award-winning author, four people attempt to make a home in the midst of environmental disaster.

Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?

Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive at the High House after her father and stepmother fall victim to a faraway climate disaster—but not before they call and urge Caro to leave London. In their new home, a converted summer house cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally, the two pairs learn to live together. Yet there are limits to their safety, limits to the supplies, limits to what Grandy—the former village caretaker, a man who knows how to do everything—can teach them as his health fails.

A searing novel that takes on parenthood, sacrifice, love, and survival under the threat of extinction, The High House is a stunning, emotionally precise novel about what can be salvaged at the end of the world.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The High House includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Safe in a bustling city, Caro takes care of her young half-brother, Pauly, while her father and stepmother, Francesca, travel around the world as climate activists. Though disaster edges ever closer, Caro and Pauly are happy together: later she reflects that they, all the people she knew, “had the habit of luck and power. . . . We saw that the situation was bad, elsewhere, but surely things would work out.” Until one day their parents call from far away, as a hurricane approaches their hotel, and tell Caro it’s time to take Pauly to their summer home, just outside of a rural village, where Francesca believes they will be able to weather what is coming.

At the High House, Caro and Pauly settle in with Grandy, the former village caretaker, and his granddaughter Sally, who Francesca entrusted to care for the house. Once a summer home, it has been transformed into an environmentalist’s bunker, with a generator and a barn full of supplies. As floods threaten the village and the coast, the four of them eke out a life, working to adapt to the changing seasons, the disastrous news, and the crushing fear of the crises still ahead. A tender and urgent novel about a found family, The High House is an intimate, emotionally precise exploration of what can be salvaged, and what makes life worth living—even at the end of the world.

Discussion Questions:

On page 11, Caro observes, “It is hard to be a child in isolation. You take on adulthood like a stain.” Later in the book, the reader watches as Pauly grows up in a different sort of isolation. Discuss the differences in Caro’s and Pauly’s childhoods. How do you think their experiences shaped their personalities as adults?

Francesca, the author writes, decided to have Pauly out of “furious defiance . . . a kind of pact with the world that, having increased her stake in it, she should try to protect what she had found to love” (page 16). What “stake” do you think Caro, Sally, and Grandy have in the world—what have they found to love? How does Francesca’s perspective on the decision to have a child map on to contemporary debates on this issue?

Caro muses that “there is a kind of organic mercy, grown deep inside us, that makes it so much easier to care about small, close things, else how could we live? As I grew up, crisis slid from distant threat to imminent probability, and we tuned it out like static, we adjusted to each emergent normality, and did what we had always done. . . .” How does this focus on “small, close things” play out over the course of the novel, even in the midst of crisis?

Why is Caro and Sally’s relationship sometimes so tense? Discuss the complications of their relationship, particularly as they build to Sally trying to comfort Caro on page 187. Do you think the two women need each other to survive? Why or why not?

Pauly is so young when disaster strikes that much of his understanding of reality is grounded in his life in the High House; he has “forgotten an entire world,” he reflects. Do you think this gives him a greater capacity for happiness or contentedness than the others? Why or why not?

On page 80, Sally contemplates Grandy’s way of life: “A way to live that was not notable, that did not aspire but did not, either, take more than it put back, nor push off the cost of enterprise elsewhere, outsourcing, as we so often did, our suffering.” How does this compare to how other characters in the novel live, like Caro’s father and stepmother? Do you understand this statement as a commentary on contemporary society?

The vicar comes and goes in the story, and Pauly, Grandy, Sally, and Caro have varying responses to the ideas of God and faith. Discuss how each of them understands the idea of God, particularly as they experience tragedy. How do they each respond to the vicar, and for what reasons do they visit the church?

On page 119 the vicar says, “Change is the natural order of things,” as if this might comfort the characters as they contemplate incoming disaster. Compare change and stagnation in The High House. Over the course of the novel, what changes, and what stays the same? Do the characters wish for change that will not come?

Pauly, Caro, Sally, and Grandy all experience tremendous grief. How does each respond to grief? What are their different ways of escaping and coping?

By page 184, Pauly has become a kind of caretaker for Caro—helping her process her despair and care for her chilblains. How have their roles shifted and why?

The slipperiness of time is a theme of the novel. Characters believe they have time, until they don’t; Grandy, the keeper of precious, practical knowledge about the natural world, ages; the seasons stretch on indefinitely, or end abruptly. Discuss the way time functions in this novel, how it slows down and speeds up, and how this affects the characters’ lives.

The High House also takes on parenthood, though none of the four central characters are parents themselves. Grandy, as Sally’s grandfather, and Caro, as Pauly’s sister, both have parental roles, and all three adults are engaged in raising Pauly. The High House, which sustains all of them, exists only because of Francesca’s love for her child. How do characters pass down knowledge? Does raising Pauly mean they must keep going, despite it all? When he is an adult, what motivation do they have left?

The High House could be considered climate fiction. With the group, discuss whether you would also characterize it as postapocalyptic—or is it too realistic for that?

Enhance Your Book Club

Once you’ve finished the novel, talk about your own perceptions of climate disaster. Did this novel change your feelings about the environmental crisis? How so?

To engage further with this topic, consider reading other recent works of climate fiction, like Weather by Jenny Offill and Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins, or nonfiction, like The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells or Move by Parag Khanna.

Consider reading Jessie Greengrass’s first novel, Sight, or her collection of short stories, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It. Sight is a “dazzling” (New Yorker), inventive narrative about an unnamed woman, pregnant with her second child, remembering her mother and grandmother and considering her changing sense of self, and was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction. An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It spans centuries, including stories about loneliness, haunting, and nature and wildness, and won the Edge Hill Prize and a Somerset Maugham Award.

About The Author

Photograph by Sophie Davidson

Jessie Greengrass spent her childhood in London and Devon. She studied philosophy in Cambridge and now lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, with her partner and children. Her collection of short stories, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, won the Edge Hill Prize and Somerset Maugham Award. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Sight, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The High House is her most recent novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (January 4, 2022)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982180133

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Raves and Reviews

Shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel Award

"Timely and terrifying … The High House stands out for our investment in its characters’ fates … Hope survives even a worst-case scenario, it seems. And yet, what remains with the reader is this: Let’s not let things get to that point.”
Oprah Daily

"Lush ... Greengrass explores what it is like to grow up amid an escalating catastrophe and what remains after so much is swept away.”
Scientific American

The High House portrays a near-future climate catastrophe the same way M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs depicts an alien invasion: through the eyes of a single family, in and around their rural home … It’s a bleak yet somehow soothing novel about parenting while the world is falling apart, but also about finding magic in the smallest moments, like a toddler’s smile or a bird’s flight. Jessie Greengrass knows how to bring scenes to life with tactile, sensory details, and while the story can be brutal, the prose is gorgeous.”
The A.V. Club

“Quietly devastating ... [the characters'] gradual reckoning with their existence and the fate of the planet is made heartbreaking through Greengrass’s stunning prose. Painful and beautiful, this is not to be missed.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED

“Moving…Greengrass excels in her account of this makeshift family—the sweet but fading Grandy, the two women who often see themselves as rivals, and the curious, growing, bird-crazy Pauly—and their attempts to live on and with and through a land that is increasingly inhospitable…[A] poignant, impressive contribution to an ever growing genre, the fiction of climate catastrophe.”

"This postapocalyptic, introspective drama is all about the love of family, isolation, hopelessness, and the will to go on. Readers will be asking the question, is it better to remember the life you had before and all that’s been lost, or to start fresh, only knowing this new existence? This novel is perfect for those who enjoy beautifully written, thought-provoking stories."

"A book suffused with the joy and fulfilment of raising a child ... The High House stands out."
The Guardian

"The novel’s verisimilitude is’s done with restraint and propelled by finely observed dynamics between characters who grapple with survivors’ guilt and ungraspable truths ... Described in measured, meditative prose, humanity’s paralysis is painful to read: the myopic faith in the status quo, the fearful waiting game ... This sobering prophecy of collective guilt is also a hypnotic elegy to nature, and our vanishing place in it. "
The Spectator

"The premise is dark, but Greengrass’s lyrical prose brings glimmers of light ... Despite the devastation, this not-quite family finds small moments of love and happiness."
—The Times Literary Supplement

"Greengrass is a thoughtful writer and The High House is full of elegant, resonant sentences about human fallibility, complacency, selfishness and our unquenchable capacity for love."
—The Times

"Jessie Greengrass uses elegiac sentences as weapon in this melancholic tale of coastal erosion ... The story is haunted by an old world that got washed away."
—The Irish Times

"An intimate, elegiac drama of a not-quite family finding a way to be together. Greengrass steeps us deeply in her wild, watery setting ... its prophetic vision fixes the attention."
—The Daily Mail

"Both a portrait of an unconventional family and of inexorable environmental tragedy, I found this extraordinarily moving."
—The Bookseller

"A deeply moving novel set in a near-future where a climate crisis is no longer just a possibility but an imminent disaster. Francesca, a scientist, is one of the few to foresee it and has prepared her former holiday home as a sort of ark for herself, her step-daughter Caro, son Pauly and locals Sally and Grandy. This is so grounded in reality and the ordinariness of the lives of this disparate group, that I had to read parts of it through my fingers.
—Good Housekeeping (UK), Best Books of the Year

"This book is completely beautiful."
Daisy Johnson, author of Sisters and Everything Under

"A master observer of inter-human atmosphere."
Max Porter, author of Grief is the Thing with Feathers and Lanny

"Brave, important and exquisitely written ... Even the darkest times are lit by moments of beauty and grace, and the reader is uplifted by Greengrass’s conviction that salvation lies not in competing with one another to survive but in uniting to help those we love."
Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend and What Are You Going Through

"Profoundly moving, this is an incisive yet hopeful reflection on how to move forward together."
Julianne Pachico, author of The Lucky Ones and The Anthill

"Chilling and beautifully realised, each small detail taking us towards an unbearable truth. A novel of tender intimacies and vast scope."
Esther Freud, author of I Couldn't Love You More and Mr Mac and Me

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