I'd posted about The House at Tyneford in one of my "women in WWII" roundups and bought a copy based on friends' and reviewers' recommendations. It didn't disappoint. It offers a perspective on the World War II years I hadn't seen before; the narrator is Elise Landau, a young woman from an upper-class Austrian Jewish family of artists. She is an outsider in several respects.
In 1938, to keep her safe from whatever may come, her parents send her to England, where she becomes a parlor maid at Tyneford House on the Dorset coast. Elise knows little English, and the charming, awkwardly worded "refugee advertisement" she'd placed in the London Times had persuaded Mr. Rivers of Tyneford to hire her.
Given her lack of training and her distinctive background, her presence upsets the natural order of things, just as one of her fellow servants predicts. When she becomes good friends with Kit, Mr. Rivers' Cambridge-educated son, no one seems to know how to treat her. Meanwhile, she writes letters to her married sister in California and waits, desperately, to hear from her parents that their overseas visa has been secured.
The House at Tyneford does an excellent job depicting a world in transition from the viewpoint of a woman who sits uncertainly between two social strata. The book's British title (The Novel in the Viola) reflects one of the items Elise carries with her to England: her father's last novel, hidden within a viola, which she hopes to have published one day.
The novel has a gentle, melancholy atmosphere, for war changes everything, and few of anyone's plans turn out as expected. Despite blurbs that compare it to Kate Morton's novels, I didn't really see it, except in the many details of English country life and its saga aspect. There is no real Gothic mystery, just a nostalgic tone of longing that the opening line conveys very well. Tyneford is based on Tyneham, an English "ghost village" that was requisitioned by Britain's Ministry of Defence in 1943; its residents were never allowed to return.
The House at Tyneford was published by Plume in December in trade paperback at $15. If you'd like a chance to win a copy (US and Canadian residents), please fill out the form below. Deadline Sunday, April 15th.