Monday, May 14, 2012

The House at Tyneford, by Natasha Solomons

There seems to be a "sneaky" little trend going on these days in the modern novel. I have this irksome feeling that publishers and writers are catching on that we readers aren't all that into strings of foul language and sex scenes and so they are toning things down a bit. However, it would also seem that they can't help but put in something along these lines for fear we'd be bored otherwise. The problem is that they don't start including bad words or love scenes until the second half of the book (or until the last 3/4) so that you feel compelled to read on, despite your misgivings. Such is the case with The House at Tyneford - a story which I very much liked, by the way.

The House at Tyneford appeals to me on so many levels. For one, it is set in England during World War II. Secondly, the first half of the book focuses rather heavily on the dichotomy between Mr. Rivers, the gentleman who owns Tyneford, and his staff. If you like Downton Abbey, this book is going to draw you in from the get-go! There is a growing romance, which is predictable but curious and also low-key (up until the last 3/4 of the book, that is). All of these aspects of the story come together and create one very memorable tale.

In this book we meet nineteen-year-old Elise Landau, who comes from a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna. Her parents obtain a visa for her to leave the country and flee to England where she obtains work at Tyneford as a parlor maid. Going from a well-to-do lady of leisure in Vienna to the life of an English parlor maid is a very hard transition, as you might imagine. Nevertheless, she tries her best, although she has the feeling that she doesn't really belong anywhere. She isn't a servant and therefore finds it difficult to associate much with the other employees at Tyneford. She also isn't the person of standing that she once was, and so she isn't at liberty to dine with the family or enjoy a long walk whenever she pleases. She has many challenges, not to mention dealing with the growing affections of the young master of Tyneford.

According to the Author's Note at the back of the book, this story is based on real-life situations. Natasha Solomons' grant aunt, Gabi Landau, escaped Europe to work as a "mother's help" for an English family. She says, "Many refugees, particularly young girls from affluent, bourgeois households, escaped this way on a "domestic service visa" - swapping cossetted and comfortable lives for the harsh existence of English servants." Also of interest is the setting for this particular story. Tyneford is based on the village of Tyneham which was commandeered by the War Office during World War II. All villagers were evacuated from the town by order of the government, so that it could be used as a training ground for soldiers and for use in other war efforts. The villagers were promised that their village would be returned to them at the conclusion of the war but the government's promise was reneged and the villagers permanently displaced. Here is an interesting article on Tyneham that I enjoyed reading.

Regretfully, the later half of the story does have language (although it is limited in its scope) and one sex scene. It is discrete, but golly you know what's happening! There are also insinuations made and descriptions given periodically towards the end, when the romantic aspect of the story is in full swing. I find this regrettable, because it will certainly keep the more conservative reader at bay. It would have kept me at bay had I know of it before I started reading. However, by the time it came into play, I felt I just had to know the ending of the story so I skimmed past the few scenes which exist. (They aren't completely raunchy but nor are they necessary.) I truly wish authors and publishers would leave things like this out of books all together and just let us engage with the story without the sensual details! If not for these needless issues, I would be able to whole heartedly recommend the story - for it is indeed fascinating. As it is though, I can only tell you about the story and caution you as to some of the contents.

On the whole, I really liked The House at Tyneford though. So . . . there you go!

Penguin Books sent me a copy of this book in exchange for offering my honest opinion. And now you have it! You are welcome.


Stephanie Kay said...

The history of the village is fascinating! I can't imagine an entire village emptied for the sake of a war.

I also hadn't heard of Jewish girls escaping on a domestic service visa. I'm sure they found the sudden economic-socio status change very challenging!!

Annette Whipple said...

That does sound very interesting indeed...though I think I can pass on it, too given the ending. Unfortately.

Bluerose said...

I'm disappointed about the ending! If not for that, I'd definitely want to read it. I seem to really like the "Downtown Abbey-like" books.

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Sounds interesting. It's too bad about the sex scenes.

BerlinerinPoet said...

I know exactly what you mean about being too hooked to stop reading it even when the sneakily slip in something toward the end that you would have put the book down for if you had known. Peter and I actually went to see an author talk, and he off-handedly mentioned how people might flip forward in his book to see if there was going to be any sex or violence. And everyone laughed like that was normal! So frustrating.

The book itself sounds pretty good. Good enough to overcome the end scene/language you think?

Barbara H. said...

I agree about that sneaky trend, and it's interesting that this author saved the negative elements until the last part of the book when the reader would be hooked enough to want to continue.

This does sound like an interesting story, but I doubt I'd pick it up knowing what was to come.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Objectionable material aside...I was really disappointed in this book. Thought it had so much potential...but nothing happened until the last 30 pages, and by then...I didn't much care.
I am a minority view, I realize.
Here are my thoughts:

A Faithful Journey said...

I have to agree that I also get so very annoyed when I am reading through a book and get to the last 50 pages or so and the author decides to throw in foul language or unnecessary sex scenes! Like you said, by that point I just sigh heavly and read on, but I wish I would have known from the get-go what to expect since I most likely wouldn't have picked it up in the first place!

Thank you for the honest review!!

Anna said...

I'm not a prude, but why do they have to include sex that just isn't necessary? Still, it sounds like a good book.

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