The House at Tyneford

Written by Natasha Solomons
Review by Heather Domin

“On the page we live again, young and unknowing, everything yet to happen.” So begins the captivating story of Elise Landau, a young Jewish woman living in 1938 Vienna. As the situation in Austria grows dangerous, her family sends 19-year-old Elise to England as one of the many Jewish refugees working in domestic service. The reluctant Elise arrives at Tyneford House, a coastal estate owned by the kind but reserved Mr. Rivers; unaccustomed to looking, acting, or being treated like a servant, her indignation adds to her homesickness as she struggles with the starched rigidity of the English class system. Her Jewish faith and German accent stack the deck against her, but she refuses to be cowed; and when the master’s son, Kit, arrives home from university, Elise finds in him a friend who will change her life in ways she could never imagine. Through years of conflict, love, loss, and healing, Elise grows from a headstrong girl to a courageous woman determined to protect Tyneford House, and all those in it, from the ravages of war and time.

Some readers may assume that The House at Tyneford is another reheated Jane Eyre mixed with Upstairs Downstairs – but it’s not the uniqueness of a premise that makes a book great, it’s what the author does with it, and Solomons has done something magical here. Her story is rich with history and filled with characters that soak into your heart and come knocking on its door at night, asking to come back in; time and place come to life in the kind of smooth, nimble prose that disappears and lets the pages turn themselves. This is a book that will make your heart ache, but some aches are more sweet than bitter. The House at Tyneford is very highly recommended.