A Review: The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
Elise Landau, at 19 years old, has lived a privileged life among her liberal family in Vienna, Austria. Champagne, luxurious bath salts and silk dresses are the norm. However, as many Jewish families begin to disappear, Elise is shipped to England to work as a house maid in an expansive, stately home by the seaside, while her family stays behind. The reader watches as Elise struggles to digest new expectations, the uncertainty of her parents whereabouts and the declaration of WWII. When Elise meets Kit, the heir to the Tyneford estate, life becomes more colorful than Elise could ever have imagined.
I picked this novel up when I saw that it was compared to Downton Abbey (I was actually hoping for something less soapy and a bit more historical). I can say, for certain, that it was very much like Downton Abbey (Wrexham is Carson in my mind), soaptastic and all. I managed to finish it rather quickly as the story moves at a steady pace and didn't require too much analysis.
Solomons stunned me with her descriptions of the luxury of the city of Vienna, and the verdurous landscape of the English countryside. Tyneford, a city by the sea, is described in such detail that you can smell the salty air and the sand on your skin.
Solomons realistically displayed the changes to Elise's character as the story progressed. Elise, the baby of the family, is spoiled and naive. She's often whiny and suffers from self esteem issues. However, once in England, Elise loses her freedom immediately, and it's here that we she finally begins to construct her own identity. After being forced into service, Elise is independent for the first time in her life. She befriends a vibrant cast of characters and revels in the landscape that surrounds her.
I'll admit that a romance constitutes the last half of the novel. And this was the bit that I didn't really enjoy. I felt that most of the situations created to help the story along were contrived and mostly outrageous. I was disappointed in the lack of detail about Elise's emotional turmoil. One never knows how individuals respond in difficult times, especially being forced from your family, but I felt that the author focused on her love life and not the serious events that were occurring all around. The conclusion was a little rushed and left me wanting more insight on Elise's life after the war.
All and all, it was an entertaining read that I managed to finish rather quickly. I definitely recommend it to those seeking interesting characters and landscapes without making a huge investment. And I highly recommend it to those who need a Downton fix while waiting for the next episode.