Book Review: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay
Posted Nov 01 2012 1:29pm
It seems appropriate to post a book review to kick off November, which also happens to be National Novel Writing Month . I have to admit that when I realized this morning that I haven’t posted an update on my writing to the blog since May, it made me really sad. It’s easy for me to blame it on the fact that we’ve been busy moving across the country and searching for our first home, but in reality I know that I’ve been slacking on my commitment to writing every day. Could it really have been as far back as February that I visited Prescott for novel research?
I am really grateful to still have family and friends who believe in me, who ask me on a regular basis how things are going. Their faith combined with my stubborn determination are what put my butt in the so-called writing chair on the mornings where it all seems overwhelming. But I know I could do better, and I want to do better. Reading Caitlin’s 168 hours posts makes me more aware than ever that we have more time than we think, and certainly more time than we tell other people we have.
No more excuses.
One of my biggest sources of inspiration this week is J.K. Rowling. That may be a very unoriginal sentence, but my reasoning has nothing to do with Harry Potter (I know, shocking). I just finished The Casual Vacancy last night. This book has gotten very mixed reviews , but personally I loved it. I thought it might be difficult to separate her from Harry but I did, and wow – J.K. Rowling is a great author, period. I plan to share more at a later date (it’s the next choice in our bookclub , so I don’t want to give away too much yet) but for now, let’s just say that I’ve found it motivating that the woman who is the brains behind one of the most incredibly successful book series in history was able to separate herself from those characters and create something dramatically different.
Speaking of book club, we just finished our latest read: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay.
Maybe it’s because I’m such a huge fan of Tatiana de Rosnay’s bestseller Sarah’s Key, but I found that the structure of this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Several people on Goodreads agreed – it’s very well-written and the topic is interesting, but there’s a big part of me that felt this novel (which wasn’t long to begin with) could have been more of a short story. I don’t want to come across as too critical because overall, I was engrossed in the plot and grew to care about Rose, the protagonist, as she struggled against the Napoleonic government’s destruction of her home. And I would definitely recommend this book if you are intrigued by the history of Paris because I had no idea that so much was destroyed in order to create the city as we know it today.
The setting for this novel is Paris in the 1860s. Emperor Napoleon III (the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) has ordered the city’s prefect, Baron Haussmann , to put into motion a series of large-scale renovations that promise to rebuild Paris into a modern city. The problem? In doing so, hundreds of homes will be demolished and entire neighborhoods will be reduced to nothing, thereby erasing generations of history and displacing residents and business owners of all ages and walks of life. Of course there is an initial public outcry, but in reality there is very little that people can do other than accept the money they are given and leave before the government comes literally knocking down their door. At the opening of the book, it seems that pretty much everyone has come to accept their fate but Rose Bazelet, the protagonist.
For Rose, this is more than just the destruction of her family home – it is a desecration of the memory of her husband Armand, who was born, raised and ultimately died there. Rose has resigned herself to doing whatever it takes to fight against an inevitable end by hiding herself in the basement of the house on rue Childebert and ignoring the sounds of crumbling buildings around her. The book is written as a letter from Rose to her late husband. In the letter, she shares a sequence of memories, each one harder to face than the next until a 30-year-old buried secret is revealed.
At times, I thought the letter writing format was a bit overemphasized. There would be lines directed at Armand such as, “as you know” or “I can’t talk about this yet,” which to a reader can feel frustrating because 1) we don’t necessarily already know and 2) we don’t want to be told we can’t talk about something until later, we want to be kept on our toes and eagerly read until we get there. But the letter format does help to convey the magnitude of Rose’s love for her husband, and just how far she is willing to go to protect the house they loved. She is certainly a brave and strong woman! For me, this book serves as a tribute to women and citizens like Rose living in Paris during this tumultuous time of uprooting, as well as a reminder that where we live can “house” our happiest and our saddest memories within the walls.
Ultimately, I would recommend Sarah’s Key before the The House I Loved , but I really respect Tatiana de Rosnay’s appreciation for the history of Paris and find that regardless of plot, her writing is beautiful and thought-provoking.