Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford-and Elise-forever.
There's that sense of surprise, delight and unjustified accomplishment in finding a gem of a debut novel. I read Natasha Solomons' Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English a the start of 2010 and loved it. At the end of the year, I was not surprised to find that it was still one of my favorite books of the year.
When her second book came out, I was excited and slightly apprehensive that my expectations might be too high. The House at Tyneford offers a grand out house, echoes of Downton Abbey...it is a story of young Elise - the cosseted daughter of Viennese Jewish intellectual elite. Her mother is a renowned beauty and opera singer - in a country where her skill is celebrated. Her father is equally well respected as the strikingly handsome and internationally respected novelist. Her younger sister is a famous musician in her own right. At the rise of National Socialism, their family prepares to leave Austria. Her parents, sister and brother-in-law are headed for the United States. Since Elise doesn't have the necessary sponsors for America, she takes a different route and applies to work as a servant in a big house in England.
Elise wasn't prepared for life as a servant in England, but there is little that she could have done to prepare. She had packed a copy of Mrs. Beaton's famous book, sewed jewelry into her clothing, and carried a duplicate of her father's latest novel hidden in her sister's viola. She had her education, her sharp intellect, her determination to be reunited with her family, and her sense of humor. She was fortunate to come to the Rivers family and Tyneford.
The book opens with Elise's recollections of Tyneford the first time she saw it. We learn the story of her life there, of her family's experience during the Nazi occupation of Austria and of how World War II destroyed the life that they knew. I loved The House at Tyneford and couldn't put it down. It is an engrossing read. If you read Natasha Solomons' earlier novel or if you love Downton Abbey, you must read The House at Tyneford.
ISBN-10: 0452297648 - Paperback $15
Publisher: Plume; Original edition (December 27, 2011), 236 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.
About the Author:
Natasha Solomons is a screenwriter and the internationally bestselling author of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English. She lives with her husband in Dorset, England.