The House at Tyneford is an emotionally charged, impeccably written novel about Elise Landau. A 19 year old Jew living in Vienna on the cusp of World War II, Elise must leave her affluent home for England. Once she gets to Tyneford, where she is to serve as a parlor maid, Elise’s life is changed forever. Away from her family, separated from the glamor of the Vienna music scene of which her family was an integral part, and now serving at parties to which she used to be a guest, Elise tries to put her life back together. In doing so, she learns the power of love and loyalty and the sorrowful undercurrent that is to pervade the lives of survivors of the War.
In all honesty, I find this review extremely difficult to write. I have not felt such an emotional connection to a book in a very long time and I am still having a hard time saying anything except that it is beautiful in every way possible. Natasha Solomons is a gifted storyteller and extremely talented writer whose words seem to float along the page. Extremely lyrical, her writing style is effortless yet carries a great deal of weight. The best simile I can find is that of an impressionist’s painting. When looked at closely, each brushstroke is beautiful in and of itself; when looked at as a whole, they combine to create a piece of art.
In addition to possessing unbelievable writing talent, Solomons has created wonderfully developed characters. Elise, Margot (her sister), their parents, Kit, and Mr. Rivers each have a distinct personality. They all have voices that are heard throughout the novel–and each grow in their own right. While some of the secondary characters are a bit flat, such as some of the college kids that come to Tyneford for Kit’s party, this is not much of an issue. They are just background noise that propels the story between Kit and Elise on. Had they been further developed I believe the pace would have slowed and the novel would not have carried as much weight.
As it stands, the plot moves nicely from one point to the next. Solomons is, essentially, weaving two stories together: the story of Elise’s new life and the story of the prolonged death of her old life. Through letters from her sister, which change the pace nicely, and Elise’s own thoughts, the reader can see how she is slowly moving away from her life in Vienna and, although she misses it and her family dearly, coming to love her life at Tyneford.
The entire novel culminates in an extremely emotional last fifty or so pages. I sobbed through them. No quiet sniffles here; I ugly cried until I had to put the book down. I do lay part of the blame on the fact that I played viola for six years and this book features violas all over the place, so the plot lines containing this theme were a bit emotional for me. I’m also always touched when writers [SPOILER ALERT, STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW!] use books to give characters hope or redemption or, well, anything, really. Case in point: I cried like a baby when I figured out what was going on in Atonement.
So, whether or not other readers will have the same emotional reaction that I did to this book, I highly recommend it to anyone who loves not only a wonderful story, but beautiful writing. I have added this to my “Must Reads” page and if I had a rating scale of one through five I would rate The House at Tyneford a six.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.