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Elise Landau is a Jew living in Vienna before World War II. Her parents realize the danger they are facing and make plans for the family to leave the country. They must all go separate ways and Elise ends up working as a housemaid on an estate in England.
Being from an artistic family in the upper middle class, Elise finds it hard to adapt to life as a housemaid. It doesn’t help that she desperately misses her family and barely speaks English. But things start to change when the master’s son, Kit, comes home from college and starts tutoring her.
The book was charming and delightful but there were some things that just weren’t perfect for me.
I felt that there was a bit too much of an influence from Rebecca and Jane Eyre. I love both books, but I don’t want new books to feel like them; the new books will only suffer in the comparison. “When I close my eyes I see Tyneford House.” Compare that to, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It wasn’t just language, it was faint echoes in the scenes as well. It’s hard to explain but it’s there.
I also saw exactly where the book was going from very early on. I had moments where I thought I might be wrong but I wasn’t. I wish it had been more of a surprise.
Otherwise, I did like this story of a house in World War II. I enjoyed seeing Elise go from an immature nineteen-year-old to a formidable woman. Her growth felt very natural. As she grew into her potential, I liked her more and more. Tyneford is loosely based on a real village called Tyneham. The things that happen to Tyneford closely shadow events at Tyneham. I had never heard of this place but it’s a sad story. I never knew what life was like on the coast for British people during WWII either. Watching German planes and the RAF fighting air battles, sending out fishing boats to evacuate soldiers from France–life must have felt chaotic but it seems that the British people faced it with grace.
Having discovered Downton Abbey in the past six months or so, I was delighted to read about life among the servants. Inevitably, Wrexham the butler looked and sounded like Mr. Carson and Mrs. Ellsworth was Mrs. Hughes. It just added to the draw of the book for me.
I do recommend this book. It’s a bittersweet romance with some very serious undertones. Fans of Downton Abbey should enjoy it as well.
Published as The House at Tyneford in the US. I don’t know how I ended up with a British copy!
Read an excerpt.
My review of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, also by Natasha Solomons
Buy The Novel in the Viola (The House at Tyneford) at
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