Natasha Solomons' The House at Tyneford
The House at Tyneford is a charming tale of love and loss set in an English country house. Elise Landau is sent into English domestic service in the late 1930s when it is clear that her artistic, Jewish parents will be unable to secure her a visa to New York with them. Elise is ill equipped for the life of a housemaid, having grown used to living the “above stairs” life herself, but she soon learns a few passing skills. When the son of the house takes a special interest in her, her world brightens. As war howls at the door, drawing all at Tyneford into it, Elise is split between her Viennese, Jewish upbringing and her new life as an English woman.Solomons creates a believable world and her characters are compelling, though not as complex as the story requires. The surface level of the story – dialogue, description, action – is fascinating, but the inner lives of the characters are not as nuanced as they could be, and the ultimate reading experience suffers as a result. The story’s reliance on Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca at points seems artful and at others merely a crutch. Still, the novel provides a unique view into World War II history and the experience of living as a domestic servant in an English country home. As other critics have observed, fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton will enjoy this book.