Monday, April 23, 2012

The House at Tyneford Readalong - Week 3

This week we have been reading the third part of The House at Tyneford (aka The Novel in the Viola) by Natasha Solomons. Please note that there may be spoilers below as we are now well into the book!

Carrie from Books and Movies, who is hosting the readalong, has posted about the unfamiliar language used in the book - words like toddy, plimsolls and syllabub and also asked us for our predictions about what is going to happen in the final parts of the book.

The point that Carrie raised about the language was very interesting to me and not because I didn't know those words because I did (all those years of reading historical romance paid off when it came to toddy and syllabub at least). I found it interesting in the context about conversations that come up on a regular basis about books that are written in British English, or Australian English for that matter, but then when the book is released in the US the books are re-edited so that they are more American English. I am glad that these kinds of words were not taken out though, because one of the fundamental themes of Natasha Solomons' books seems to be the exploration of Britishness, or the British way of life.

One of my favourite quotes in this section talks about precisely this - the preservation of a certain lifestyle in the face of many challenges that were bought on by the start of World War II. This quote comes from page 219 of The Novel in the Viola:

Despite the lack of staff, and the inordinate distance between kitchen and dining room, standards had to be maintained. The digging up of the potato patch and the disappearance of the under servants had disturbed Mrs Ellsworth, and she sought reassurance in the details of luncheon in the wainscoted dining room at one o'clock. Mr Wrexham, walking past the kitchen door with his laden tray and perfectly starched shirt, proved to her that England was mighty and indestructible. Wars might be declared, kitchen boys vanish to join the navy, blackout curtains smother the French windows, and previously reliable footman leave without notice, but lunch would be served at five minutes past one and the butler would wear white cotton gloves.

As to what is going to happen in the final section of the book. I am not sure that I am liking the direction that the book is taking. There seems to be a growing sense of intimacy between Elise and Mr Rivers. At this stage there is no question that Elise, or Alice as she is now to be known loves Kit, but I am a bit concerned that Kit may really have left the scene and that the relationship between those who are left behind may develop into something more.

I wanted to comment on the physical relationship between Kit and Elise, as slight as it is. I really enjoyed the way that the author imbued the scenes between them with an increasing sensuality both in letter form and together. In reality, they didn't do very much and so this is a very tame book, but it was very much a building tension between the two young characters and it felt very organic. I suspect that the chance for the two of them is gone, but the way that this issue was addressed seemed to reflect young love, but also the limitations that the morality of the day could well have placed on a couple like them.

From the very beginning of the book I have been convinced that Elise is not going to see her parents again, but I did think for a few pages there that I could be wrong. I thought it was great that the author was able to put that small niggle of doubt into my mind, and I am sure that there may well be a few more twists and turns before I close the book for the last time!


  1. I skimmed this commentary, because I will be reading this one soon, but am glad that you are finding it interesting and that you are liking it!

  2. I'm glad you mentioned the way she handled the physical romance between Kit and Elise - I also thought that was very well-done.

    And, yes, that scene where you thought her parents were there... that was heart-breaking.

    I can't comment much more, because as soon as I wrote the third part discussion post, I finished the rest of the book - but I'll be very interested to hear your thoughts after you finish!

  3. I too enjoyed the authors play with Elise and Mr. Rivers, especially still referring to him as Mr. Rivers. It is rather HOT. Also appreciate that the Britishness is left and not Americanized. And ah yes the scene where her parents were there, perfect. She had me on the edge of my seat. Enjoy the end, I sure did.

  4. Glad those words were kept in - they remind me of a youth spent reading Enid Blyton books. Bolster anyone? ;)

  5. I agree with you in how the author wrote the physical relationship between Elise and Kit. I think it was well written using actual presence and written letters.

    The ending of the book is what I cannot wait to discuss. I am curious if there will be varying opinions, i think so.