Picked up this book, another book club read, from the library and promptly finished it two days later. It’s a short, quick read, but it’s also good. I gave “The House at Tyneford” by Natasha Solomons four out of five stars on Goodreads.
Elise Landau is a 19-year-old Jew living in Vienna, Austria, with her family in 1938. Her parents, knowing they have to leave Austria, get her a domestic service visa and send her to England to work at Tyneford House for the Rivers family. Her sister, Margo, is married and she and her husband move to San Francisco. Elise’s parents are waiting for their visa to go to New York, where they will then secure a visa for Elise and move her to the United States.
Or at least, that’s the plan.
The story follows Elise as she heads to England, speaking very poor English (though she can read it rather well). She makes her way to Tyneford, where she has to learn how to be a parlor maid. Elise was upper class in Vienna, so she has no idea how to do many of the things required of her, but she has to learn because being dismissed means possibly losing her chance to stay safe in England.
The book is touted as something for fans of Downton Abbey, and I do think that’s accurate. It does cover servants versus aristocrats in England, and also gives a glimpse into how places in England changed with World War II.
This book is a love story, of sorts, so beware if that isn’t your cup of tea (that cliche seems appropriate for a book set in England). Elise falls in love with the junior Rivers, Kit, and it in some ways turns the house upside-down. This is a great beach read, with chapters that aren’t crazy long and are also divided up so there are plenty of stopping places—something I like in a beach read.
The one thing I didn’t like so much: Elise is narrating the book and she tells you in a few spots that things don’t turn out how she’d thought they were going to. It’s almost like she’s spoiling things. That said, it’s pretty easy to guess where things are going, so her spoilers aren’t a surprise, but still. It bothered me just a bit—maybe because it threw me out of the story.
Other than that, I don’t really have complaints. It isn’t an overly complicated book, and Solomons does a good job of pulling you into Elise’s story and all the complicated emotions she has during that time. My suggestion, if you like the time period, or the servant/master dynamic, check it out next time you need a book to read on an airplane.