Fiction review: The House at Tyneford

Every mom needs to dive into a good novel from time to time.  No matter how stressed and crazed your life is, there is something so rejuvenating about a story that transports you to an entirely new  place (preferably a place without piles of laundry to fold).

And I found that kind of story in The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons.

The blurb on the cover promises that Tyneford is a perfect fit for fans of Downton Abbey.  Naturally,  I took the bait.  And yes, it is somewhat like DA — there’s a beautiful house on the English coast, and servants downstairs and gentry upstairs.  But there are some key differences.  Instead of 1912, the book opens just prior to WWII.  And the main character, a young woman named Elise Landau, is a Jewish refugee from Vienna who has come to Tyneford to work as a housemaid in order to escape an increasingly dangerous reality back home. Elise, whose mother is a singer and whose father is a novelist, is used to having a servant, not being a servant, so the adjustment to her role as housemaid creates a tension that informs the first part of the story.   But as the story goes on, she changes, due in large part to the friendship  that blossoms between her and the son of the house.   And when war breaks out, it too changes life at Tyneford, and forever changes the relationships between the main characters.

As novels go, this one really sucked me in, giving me one of the best fiction-reading experiences I’ve had in a while. The character of Elise was totally believable, and I liked how the author gave us a window into her cosmopolitan life in Vienna before moving her to the  old country house on the English coast.  The descriptions of the scenery were lovely; the sea was practically a character in and of itself.   What was most interesting to me was the way that both of the main characters changed over the course of the story.  It wasn’t just Elise who had to reinvent herself and start over in a new reality;  it was fascinating to see how WWII affected the lives of everyone, in all social classes, and (in this story at least) dismantled the barriers that kept servants and masters apart.

I also give the author props for her deft handling of a pretty tricky love story.  To say more would be too spoilerish, but it’s a sign of her skill that I could hardly stand to put the book down until I saw what happened between the characters, and to see if what I suspected would happen did, in fact, happen.  Am I being too vague?  Just trust me that it’s one of the most absorbing love stories I’ve read in quite a while.

Bottom line: if you’re a Downton Abbey fan, an Anglophile, a sucker for books that take place in big country houses, or just someone who needs to lose herself in a really good story (laundry be darned!), check out The House at Tyneford.   It won’t disappoint.

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