Wednesday, May 25, 2011

another lovely novel from Natasha Solomons

If just looking at that cover doesn't make you want to devour this book...

VIENNESE JEWESS, 19, seeks position as domestic servant. Speaks fluid English. I will cook your goose. Elise Landau, Vienna 4, Dorotheegasse, 30/5.

Elise Landau is a daughter, a beloved younger daughter, of an opera singer and a novelist. She loves her home, Vienna. She is also a Jew. And it is 1937. Believing that all her family will eventually be able to leave Austria, she advertises for a position in an English household as a domestic servant.

She arrives at Tyneford House in Dorset with a secret hidden in a viola, and gold chains sewn into the hems of her clothes. She will be housemaid for the enigmatic Mr Rivers and his charismatic son Kit. This novel is the story of her journey into womanhood at the same time as the world moves forward into war and as her parents try to join her in England. "The start of an affair. The end of an era." It's got romance, it's got history, it's got thoughtfulness, it's got setting, it's got joy and sorrow, and it seems to me like it's got everything.

I really, really loved Natasha Solomons' first novel, Mr Rosenblum's List. And so I was very excited to receive this in the post yesterday. Yes, I read it that quickly. It was very unhelpful when I am supposed to be poring over my thesis. Did it have to be so captivating?

Natasha Solomons writes really well. I think it's all in the detail. The book is full of enchanting descriptive passages which I do not skim over, as I normally would (to my shame). If I didn't really consider myself wanting to go to Dorset before, I do now.

The plot is beautifully woven together. I really did not want to put the book down. It's a really lovely, bittersweet combination. Moments of profound sorrow mixed with moments of joy, moments to delight in life. It's another historical novel, like my recent favourite Russian Winter, which works as a story with roots in history, rather than history clumsily turned fictional.

There were a few moments that felt a little laboured, but I almost don't want to mention them, because they really don't matter. The book as a whole is wonderful. It's like something delicious that melts in your mouth.

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