The House at Tyneford, Natasha Solomons, Penguin Group, 2011, 351 pp
I read this for one of my reading groups and found it fairly good historical fiction. It stands out as yet another story derived from the global event called World War II. I don't suppose we will run out of tales about that for a good long time.
Elise Landau is 19 and forced to emigrate from Vienna to England in 1938 because she is Jewish, her father is a novelist out of favor with the Third Reich, and her parents want to keep her safe. Apparently, many young, affluent girls escaped Europe on a domestic service visa to Great Britain in those years.
Elise had been spoiled by her family's comfortable circumstances in Vienna including a rich social life due to her mother's status as an opera singer and her father's fame as a novelist. Arriving at the Tyneford House on the wild Dorset coast, she found it difficult to adjust to being a servant rather than being served.
In truth, the story was like The Secret Garden for adults. The writing is nicely done, except for a tiresome tendency of the author to begin each chapter with a page of description. Fortunately Ms Solomons writes well about the beauties and fitful weather of the area.
Most of my fellow reading group members found it improbable and even cringe inducing. Elise and the son of this family fall in love, so she rises from her servant station to family member. Because of the war, the love affair is doomed.
In my view, historical fiction of this sort must include a love story; war usually sends love into disastrous and sad directions; disruption of family life, economic conditions, and treasured traditions is inevitable. The House at Tyneford touches on all of the above. It made me cry once and sob near the end.
Not bad. More than a piece of fluff. And I am now determined to learn to make a Sacher torte. (Did you know it is a gluten-free dessert?)
(The House at Tyneford is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)