Sunday, April 01, 2012

Review and giveaway opportunity: Natasha Solomons, The House at Tyneford

By chance, this giveaway opportunity was offered to me by the publisher, Plume, just after I'd finished reading my own copy of Natasha Solomons' The House at Tyneford, so I thought I'd take it on and give you the chance to win one for yourself.  Two copies are up for grabs.  This contest is open to US and Canadian residents.

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.


  1. I already have a copy of this waiting for me (although it's called The Novel in the Viola here in the UK). I can't wait to read it!

  2. I have been wanting to read this for a while. It sounds like such an interesting book. Thanks for the review and giveaway.

  3. I enjoyed it as well. Like you, I didn't see a connection to Kate Morton, but I fell easily into the Vienna apartment and the English countryside.

  4. There are quite a few blurbs/reviews that mention Downton Abbey, too. The time period's not the same, but I can see the similarities.

  5. Anonymous10:30 AM

    I am currently reading this - Natasha Solomons has such lovely prose (like so many British authors). And like you, it isn't disappointing (so far).

    Sarah Other Librarian

  6. I've had this one on my radar since learning it has similarities to Downton Abbey, which I just love.

    Thanks for the giveaway.

  7. Hello! I know that That Reading the Past has published a number of reviews of books focused on the WWII era; I was wondering if anyone could suggest a book revolving around that era that has LGBTQ+ characters? Thank you so much for your help!

    1. Hi, Holly! Sarah Waters' The Night Watch is set during the Blitz in London and would fit the description. Ellen Klages' novel Passing Strange is historical fantasy set in San Francisco at the time and would also fit. Hope this helps!

    2. ps - I haven't read The Night Watch but have read other novels by Sarah Waters, which are very good!