“It’s the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford’s young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford—and Elise—forever.”
The House at Tyneford is a different kind of WWII novel that I’ve read. Granted, I haven’t read a wide variety, but I’ve read a few. Most of the novels surround themselves with war or with the tragedies that struck the targeted communities of Hitler controlled territories. The House at Tyneford took a different stance. While we do follow Elise who is a Jew fleeing Austria, we spend the entire novel at Tyneford which is a coastal estate in Great Britain. Since Britain isn’t an active part of the war for some time, a lot of the events that take place are incredibly mundane or relaxing–which isn’t usually shown in a WWII novel. The book is in Elise’s point of view and many of the times she mentions how the war seems very far away even though it is affecting neighboring nations. She doesn’t really feel the real effect the war has on Tyneford until things are ultimately rationed and she herself faces a Nazi that crashes into the sea by the estate.
Because of how differently this novel goes with the general feel of WWII novels, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people found this novel rather boring. However, I quite enjoyed it. Elise, while she was from a bourgeois Jewish family in Austria, felt very down to Earth. I found myself liking her easily and sympathizing her when things when awry. I was rooting for her and for the Rivers family the entire way. They were all kind hearted and good people who were sadly watching the world change before them. All of these characters, down to the small characters you may only see once or twice in the novel, had a soul. They were all so dynamic and did an amazing job at feeling like you were a part of this life at Tyneford.
The writing itself was also incredibly beautiful. There are lyrical moments in the book such as:
“On the page we live again, young and unknowing, everything yet to happen.”
“Vienna is a city where you can see the sky. There are a thousand cafes lining the pavements, where we sit and drink coffee and chatter and the old men argue over chess and cards. In the spring there are balls, and we dance till three in the morning, the ladies a swirl of white dresses like apple blossoms spiralling to earth in the night. We eat ice cream in the summer by the Danube, watching boats hung with lanterns drift along the water. Even the wind waltzes. It is a city of music and light.”
The entire book is full of this kind of writing and I commend Natasha Solomons for being able to describe Tyneford differently each and every time. It felt like every time I was seeing a different side of Tyneford and, still, by the end I never really got to see all of it which left me a feeling of forlorn sadness that I never will. However, because of this writing, the book can also feel incredibly dense. This is a book I felt the need to really slow down on my reading. I wanted to cherish every moment and every word.
One thing that might turn people away from this book is that it doesn’t end with a very happy ending. It’s rather bittersweet and tragic. There are a lot of down moments full of grief and uncertainty, but there are also incredibly happy and bright moments. This novel is a great exploration of a group of people who are thrust into a world they never imagined or were prepared for. It makes you want them to find happiness and security.
I highly recommend The House at Tyneford for a reader who is looking for something a lot more dense this summer. I think this can be a great read if you’re near a beach or coastal area. Actually, after reading this book, I had a hankering to just go to the beach by myself and maybe climb onto the rocks by the cliffside and just watch the water. This is a kind of book that may not impress you with warfare or the defeating of a greater evil, but it will touch you emotionally and linger for some time.
The House at Tyneford was written by Natasha Solomons. It is 359 pages long and was published in December 27, 2011 by Plume.