Elsie Landau, the slightly awkward nineteen-year-old daughter of an acclaimed novelist father and famous opera singer mother, soon finds the world as she knows it no more. In 1938 Vienna, Austria, the world is changing and on the brink of war. Vienna is no longer a safe haven for Jews as times are changing for the worst and not even the upper-class is safe. Elsie’s family devises a plan to flee what is coming in their native land. Elsie’s parents, Julian and Anna, will wait in Vienna until promised and coveted American Visas arrive and Margot, Elise’s older sister will go to America with her husband. Elsie is to go to England and become a housemaid. The job will not be glamorous and will be the exact opposite of all that Elsie is accustomed to, but it may be her only hope for survival. The journey to England and the people that she meets there will change Elsie’s life forever.
Elsie receives word that she is to begin work as a housemaid at the English estate of Tyneford which is tucked close to the ocean on a quiet bay. The home belongs to the quiet, yet polite Mr. Rivers, who welcomes Elsie into his home. Her new role is quickly made apparent to her by the tenured servant staff of the estate, who easily reminds her, not meanly, that her role as an aristocratic youth is no more. Elsie must learn the chores, such as polishing, tea pouring and dinner serving that she once had performed for her by staff. The only ties that she has to her old life in Vienna are the precious jewellery that her mother sewed into her gowns before her journey and the sporadic letters that come back from home and America to provide her with updates. When she meets Mr. River’s energetic and handsome son Kit, Elsie’s life changes even more.
Falling in love in a foreign country is hard and it certainly is not easy on the brink of war. It is clear what Elsie’s position in England is and she cannot escape her past. To those around her, she is a refugee and the news of her family is fleeting or minimal. As the relationship between Kit and Elsie evolves, in spite of social constrictions and apprehensions, there seems to be much hope for the future.
When Kit enlists in the Navy, there is a shift in the world of Tyneford. What unfolds after Kit’s enlistment and the advancement of the war is interesting, sad and hopeful at the same time. Author Natasha Solomons presents an interesting twist that was right under the nose of the reader the entire time. Through the tragedy that ensues and the eventual changes that Elsie undergoes, she emerges quite the heroine without trying to be as such throughout The House at Tyneford.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Plume. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.