The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
Finished on December 27, 2017
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)
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 parlour 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 upstairs-downstairs friendship that will transform Tyneford--and Elise--forever.
It's probably a good thing that I didn't recognize Natasha Solomons' name or remember that she wrote Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English (which I wrote about here). Had I realized that The House at Tyneford wasn't my first encounter with Solomons' writing, and that I was disappointed with her previous novel, I doubt I would have given this book a try. Thank goodness for a poor memory, as I loved this wonderful novel! I began reading it in October, but for some reason wound up setting it aside. When I finally got back to the book, I started over from the beginning and wound up loving the lush, rich writing, reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher's prose.
I remember that Sunday with absolute clarity--it was one of those perfect June mornings that make one certain Eden was a summer's day in southern England. The bells rang out across the hillside, chiming with the tinkle of the sheep bells in the field beside the churchyard. Swallows zoomed across the empty sky, while on a stone wall a black cat watched yellow ducklings dabble on the pond with greedy eyes. I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with summer. The air was laced with the fragrance of a thousand wildflowers and the sunlight made the snapdragons and foxgloves in the cottage gardens shine vermillion pink. The entire countryside was smeared with colour; the sky a bold, throbbing blue and beneath it the meadows sprinkled with buttercups, shining like gold coins. Back then I didn't know the names of the flowers--they came later--but now instead of patches of orange and yellow petals, I recall cowslips and creeping jenny. In the distance the sea sparkled and glittered, white spray crashing on the shore.The House at Tyneford reminds me of an old-fashioned story that has a mixture of romance and suspense, with characters you either love or despise, bringing to mind classics such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. It's been a long time since I've read such an engrossing novel and with over 350 pages, I still wanted more. Now that Downton Abbey is finished, I would love to see a TV series based on this novel, especially since I love the World War II time period.
There was no use objecting. I hurried out of the kitchen and went to straighten my hair and splash my face. Despite the lack of staff, and the inordinate distance between kitchen and dining room, standards had to be maintained. The digging up of the potato patch and the disappearance of the underservants had disturbed Mrs. Ellsworth, and she sought reassurance in the details of luncheon in the wainscoted dining room at one o'clock. Mr. Wrexham, walking past the kitchen door with his laden tray and perfectly starched shirt, proved to her that England was mighty and indestructible. Wars might be declared, kitchen boys vanish to join the navy, blackout curtains smother the french windows and previously reliable footmen leave without notice, but lunch would be served at five minutes past one and the butler would wear white cotton gloves.Could it be that, between novels, Solomons became a more polished, sophisticated writer or did she simply have a better editor this time around? The answer to that question will most likely go unanswered, but if you ask if I will read more by her, my reply is an emphatic yes! Without a doubt!