Sunday, April 15, 2012

The House of Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The House of Tyneford. Natasha Solomons. A Plume Book: The Penguin Group. December 2011. 368 pages. ISBN #: 9780452297647.

Elise Landau, a 19 year-old Viennese-born young lady, is forced to leave Austria due to the Nazi occupation.  A life of luxury, with a famous writer father and opera singer mother, is transformed into a world where Elise is now a servant in an upper class English country family.  Tyneford is a magical, fairy-tale land of beauty on land and the sea. Grievously homesick and missing the rest of her family, she waits for word from them while adapting to this new, difficult change in social status!

It turns out her sister and husband have made it to America but Julian and Anna have been unable to obtain a visa to leave Austria, but Elise doesn't know that. So at least Elise can hold onto hope while learning to adapt to the life of a maidservant. The novel fluctuates between her struggles to fit into this very different life and her finding peace as she gradually explores the beautiful land around her new home. Little by little, a normalcy develops until the son of her employer, Kit Rivers. They become friends who love the land and also love an occasional bout of unacceptable behavior that is quite harmless but shocks the daylights of both Mr. Rivers and Mr. Wrexham and Mrs. Ellsworth, the two who trained her in her hob duties. Wild and fun, these actions become the tie that draws them into a deeper closeness.

War changes everything and it's no different for Kit, Else, Mr. Rivers, the rest of the household staff, and the remaining fishers, farmers, and shepherds of Tyneford. The Germans begin to bomb Britain and the residents of Tyneford have their own secret defense force, helpless in a way to prevent the carnage of war but strong in a belief in their power to protect, a belief that ennobles all of Tyneford. Kit joins the military but quickly returns in a wounded state. Soon he will recover and leave, and from here the unbelievable happens. Relationships change in a way never anticipated by the reader and keep him or her rapidly turning pages to determine the possible, anticipated outcome. 

The House of Tyneford is a lovely book, soft and fierce in all the right places, and a tale that tells the wartime tale in so many different points of view, adding several subplots of care and love to warm the heart and elicit intrigue in all involved. Nicely done, Ms. Solomons!

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