Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 11, 2021

Love Objects, by Emily Maguire

Emily Maguire is one of Australia’s most dynamic writers: she tackles difficult contemporary topics in fiction which is engrossing, sensitive and deeply satisfying to read.

Love Objects is the story of a single woman whose independence is under threat because she has a hoarding disorder.  Nic is only forty-five, but when she has a fall, triggered by the chaos of treasured possessions in her home, she lies unable to move for days.  Help does not come until her niece Lena realises something is wrong when Nic doesn’t turn up for their usual Sunday lunch.  The ambos can barely get into the house because the corridors are stacked to the ceiling with old newspapers and magazines, and Lena, who—despite her close relationship with her aunt—hasn’t been inside the house for some years, is horrified by the state of it.  She’s appalled by the social worker’s suggestion that Nic might not be ‘allowed’ to return home, but is immediately conflicted by the promise she makes to Nic that she won’t throw anything out.  To get Nic home involves betrayal.

Lena is guilt-stricken that she didn’t know about the situation, but she has a serious problem of her own.  A casual sexual encounter with another student who she really likes, turns into a nightmare when without her knowledge or consent he shared a video of it and it went viral.  Though her face is obscured, she’s easily recognisable by a distinctive scar on her arm, and a barrage of disgusting messages and revolting comments on her phone ensue.  It turns out that this video was premeditated by a cohort of these privileged students, with cameras set up beforehand. It was carefully edited so that he can’t be identified and uploaded to a site where her appearance and performance are ‘rated’.  All sorts of problems arise because Lena is so overwhelmed and distressed by this that she keeps her phone turned off most of the time.

Maguire writes about class in Australia with discernment, and the background of this family is complex.  Lena’s college accommodation is dependent on her fulfilling the terms of her enrolment, which adds to her problems when she has to drop everything to help Nic, skipping classes and an important appointment.  Although she’s obviously intelligent, she’s not a great student, and she feels out of her depth socially and intellectually.  Aunty Nic became the mother Lena wanted to have because her home offered fun and laughter and not taking things too seriously… but as Lena finds out about the complex psychological issues involved in hoarding, she begins to realise that the hoarding is a response to some distress that she didn’t know about.  The urgency of the situation means, however, that there’s no time to unpack the psychology of her aunt’s behaviour.  The house has to pass an inspection, or Nic won’t be allowed home.

Nic’s brother Will, not long out of gaol and with issues of his own, turns up to help, but Lena’s preoccupation with the video and her angst about betraying her aunt leads to some lively dialogue between them.  The narrates segues between these three, offering depth and complexity to what’s not said and understood between them.

Love Objects is a compassionate portrait of a condition most people don’t understand and usually disapprove of.  There was an (ABC?) series about it a little while ago, which clearly depicted the safety issues and the exasperation of family members trying to help but flummoxed by the seemingly irrational behaviour of the hoarder.  What Maguire does is to show Nic’s reasoning when she finds things that have meaning for her, but wisely, she does not offer a solution.

Highly recommended.

Author: Emily Maguire
Title: Love Objects
Cover design: Sandy Cull, cover artwork Cecelia Paredes
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2021
ISBN: 9781760878337, pbk., 392 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings



  1. It is well written, isn’t it? And I agree that not offering a solution is wise.


    • I think it’s basically because there isn’t one, not without years of therapy.


  2. Dear Lisa
    Thanks again for a very interesting review. I have to admit that this is an author, as well as a book that I did not know about.

    As a book collector myself, I do worry a little about myself, particularly about the issue of when a hobby becomes an all-consuming passion and then morphs into a dangerous obsession. I was reminded in your description of the plot of Love Objects of one instance, many years ago, when a reclusive Melbourne collector of books and magazines was actually found dead in his house, covered by collapsed stacks of books and magazines that must have contributed to his demise. The house was later described by the authorities as quite literally a death trap.

    I think Love Objects is a book I need to read.
    Best wishes


    • Have you read Homer and Langley by E L Doctorow? That’s based on a true story which makes it absolutely chilling to read…


      • No, I have not read Homer and Langley, although I am a bit of a fan of Doctorow, particularly Ragtime and The March. I must have missed this one somehow. From your review (thanks for the link), it sounds like a ghastly and tragic situation made all the more poignant by its basis in reality.

        Another one to add to the must read pile.


  3. I bought this a couple of weeks ago and will look forward to reading it soon. I’m fascinated by hoarders… I seem to know a lot of them (my maternal grandmother was the worst; she had so much stuff in her bedroom you could not open the door!). I do not hoard things— in fact, it’s the opposite, I barely own any material possessions because I like to travel light, as it were.


    • It’s probably more common than we think.
      In that (ABC?) series about hoarding, they showed people like your grandmother who confined the hoarding to a particular room, so in many cases, the problem could be hidden.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m interested to read this, having read her previous book and also having heard her interviewed (on the radio) about this. It sounds like a good read. I am a bit of a hoarder, but not to the point that it affects my ability to live my life safely and “normally” (whatever that means! Maybe others might disagree!)


    • My guess is that the definition excludes you, because it’s not a problem for you.
      I think it becomes a problem when it limits what you can do in the house, poses a safety risk, or prevents you from having visitors so it impacts on social life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I think that’s the difference. Still, I’d like to keep less


        • Is that because you’re looking ahead to downsizing?


          • Yes, that’s certainly part of it, but when we do downsize I need to keep on keeping less!!

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Lisa, I liked this read, but I did find it tackled too many topics. I could relate to Nic, I am a collector not a hoarder, and not a dangerous one to myself or anybody else. I much prefer Maguire;s novel, An Incident in the Night. Again, though I found another editing problem – I think it was on page 212, “what you want you want me to do.” I did notify Allen & Unwin of this error.


    • I’m starting to think that I want to chase up some of her earlier novels, I only discovered her when I read An Isolated Incident.
      I’m a collector too (books, mainly) and I do keep things that have sentimental value, but I have a place for everything and I have regular purges of things like clothes. If I haven’t worn it in the last couple of years, then off it goes to the op shop.


  6. This sounds very powerful. I’m similar to Kim in that I tend more towards the chucking everything out side of things, but whenever I see tv clips of people clearing out the house of someone who hoards I really worry for them – if they’re not ready it must be so traumatic. It is very misunderstood and this sounds a sensitive portrayal.


    • I wonder how or even if they could be ready. The hoarding is connected in some deep-seated way to a need we don’t understand…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The only Maguire I have read is An Isolated Incident which dealt with violence against women very well (and trucking less well). I’d be interested to read her again but you give the impression she is researching “issues” and writing novels around them, which is off-putting.


    • That’s not the impression I meant to give, certainly not in a negative sense. I think she’s an author who’s paying attention to current affairs and writing about things that are important. (Which is probably why the book I read afterwards seemed so inane!)


  8. Sounds good Lisa – I wonder if reading it would make me address my hoarding of books?????


    • *puts on psychologist’s hat*
      *deep breath, comforting voice*
      Hmm, would you like to tell me about your problem, Ms KBR?’


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