Title: The House at Tyneford
Author: Natasha Solomons
Genre: Historical Fiction
Star Rating (out of 5): ****
For: Fans of Kate Morton, Kristin Hannah, Downton Abbey
In the turmoil of 1938, 19-year-old Elise Landau’s Jewish parents determine it is not safe for her to remain in Vienna. In her broken English, Elise sends out an advertisement looking for a position as a housemaid, promising to “Cook your goose.” She is offered a position at a grand house in England, where the sparkling gaiety of her well-to-do life in Vienna quickly fades as she takes up her responsibilities as a lowly maid. Her parents have promised to send for her as soon as they can obtain visas to go to America, but as the days turn into weeks and months, Elise slowly realizes she may be trapped in her new status as an invisible servant and refugee.
The sedate pace of the household is rocked when the landowner’s son, Kit, returns. He offers to tutor Elise in English, and they strike up a friendship. When Kit enlists in the air force and the war begins to rage in the air above their once-quiet village, life at Tyneford begins an irrevocable change.
This book is beautifully written, with musical prose and fantastic character development. There is a scene near the end where the author describes a symphony written to commemorate a family that fell victim to the Holocaust–it is a spectacular piece of prose that showed the author’s obvious understanding of music’s ability to move our souls. As a musician myself, I felt the book was worth the read just for that scene.
The book has a sad but beautiful ache to it that resonated with me as the characters lives are irrevocably shaped by the events of WWII. Not everyone will like the ending, but I did.
One disclaimer: this is not a Christian book, and there is some premarital sex and descriptions of sexual fantasies that pushed the boundaries for me. Also some significant swearing. Really disappointing in what was otherwise a wonderful read.