Monday, April 30, 2012

The House at Tyneford Readalong - Week 4

The fourth and final part of the House of Tyneford readalong is here! And, whew, what a ride it was to the end.

Beware of spoilers below. I will try to avoid them, but some are inevitable as we are in effect discussing the last section of the book and the book as a whole.

In some ways there were not that many surprises in the wash up in terms of relationships, but there were in other ways. We knew what was going to happen with Tyneford as we saw that in the opening pages of the book. It was just a question of when really. I called very early on that Elise wouldn't find her parents again, and in a lot of ways I was relieved that Kit doesn't make a miracle return. I have seen that happen far too often - you know the one I mean....if you haven't seen the body they likely are not really dead.

Similarly, I was not surprised when Elise ended up in a relationship with the man she did. I did find the whole switch of identity to be quite interesting as a tool. It was not that unusual for immigrants to change their names during or after the was, so the transition from Elise Landau to Alice Land was easy to imagine. I found Daniel's transition to be much more interesting because not only did it symbolise the new found intimacy between the two of them, but it also represented the new start that was forced upon them all, not only as a result of Kit's death but also as a result of the fate of Tyneford as a whole.

There were so many scenes that I enjoyed in this section of the book. I loved the jitterbugging scenes before the party for the WAAF ladies who were billeted in the house, I was scared stiff in the Run, Rabbit, Run chapter and the open, raw grief that was shown after that episode:

I didn't really rest anymore. Not since Kit died. I saw him in my dreams; he as exactly the same as before, but even in my sleep I knew he was dead. In the morning when I woke, my grief choked me, thick as smoke. When I was a child, I imagined that if my parents died, or Margot, that I would  die of grief; I'd cleave in two like an elm tree in a lightning strike. But I didn't die. I as hollowed out, scraped clean inside. I imagined myself to be like an empty Russian doll, filled with nothing. Sometimes when I paced beside the sea, the shingles washed as the waves and withdrew, I wondered whether I ought to slip into the tide. I could fill my pockets with pebbles and wade out beyond the black rocks, beyond the peak of Worbarrow Tout, until the saltwater trickled down my throat. It seemed a quiet, easeful death. Perhaps Kit waited for me beneath the waves, as he did in my dreams. It was an idle thought, brought on by misery and the sad call of the sea. That afternoon, when the Messerschmitts had chased me, I only wanted to live. I had thought for a second that I ought to embrace death and join Kit. As I ran, sweating and feral with terror, I discovered I was greedy for life.
Carrie has asked us to look at the reading guide questions, so here goes.

What is your opinion of where Mr. Rivers and Elise’s relationship ends up?

I was okay with where the relationship ended up. There relationship was forged through tough times in so many ways and I suspect that strengthened the bond between them. I did find the way that Elise was able to separate the emotions that she felt for each man and how those feelings were linked to her two identities as discussed above very interesting.

Tyneham - images from Wikipedia
As you see it, what events led to Tyneford’s fate? 

The war is the only thing that really directly led to Tyneford's fate. I did, however, find myself wondering if the somewhat shadowy work that Poppy was involved in didn't come into play.

Reading this book sent me looking for more information about the real village that Tyneford was based on. Tyneham is located exactly where Tyneford was in the book, and it is fascinating to see the pictures that are available. It must have been heartbreaking for the people of Tyneham to realise that they were never going to get to go home again despite the original promises of the government. The other interesting thing is that Tyneham was not the only village to be taken over in this way.

What significance did Tyneford have to Elise, Kit, and Mr. Rivers? 

The strength of the bond to Tyneford was different for Elise, Kit and Mr Rivers. For Mr Rivers, it represented stability, past and future. It represented home and hearth but also responsibility for all the people who lived there and in the village.

For Kit, some of the same things applied, but I think that Kit was still being shaped by the experiences he had there. I suspect that for Kit, Tyneford was the place where he could really be himself.

Elise is different again. For her, Tyneford represents safety, but it also represents isolation and loss. That however evolves into new beginnings and to a life fully lived.

Can a place like Tyneford exist in today’s world? 

It's hard to imagine a place like Tyneford existing today. When you consider that even in the deserts of Africa there are mobile phones everywhere, that sense of total isolation would be incredibly rare. I am sure that there may times during the extremes of winter where there might be places that are isolated for a period of time but not permanently. I could be wrong though.

In some ways, Tyneford felt like a place out of time in the 1940s, let alone today!

Why do you think the novel in the viola was blank?

As soon as I read that the pages in the novel were blank, the thing that came to mind was that Julian pretty much knew that he was saying goodbye to both of his daughters. By giving Elise blank pages, he was giving her and Margot permission to write their own stories, which is what they did. It was a bit of  a disappointment that the story that the two daughters wrote included such a long estrangement though.

Overall, I liked this book a lot. I think I would like to reread both this one and Mr Rosenblum's List to be sure, but on balance I think I liked Mr Rosenblum a bit better as it had a different type of charm. Regardless, I will definitely be lining up to get hold of Natasha Solomons' next book!

By the way, don't forget to head over to the author's website (to the bottom of the home page) and listen to the music that was especially composed for the launch of this book! Very evocative.

Rating 4/5

This book counts for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

In the spring of 1938 Elise Landau arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay. A bright young thing from Vienna forced to become a parlour-maid, she knows nothing about England, except that she won't like it. As servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn, Elise wears her mother's pearls beneath her uniform, and causes outrage by dancing with a boy called Kit. But war is coming and the world is changing. And Elise must change with it. 

At Tyneford she learns that you can be more than one person - and that you can love more than once
Thanks to Carrie for hosting the readalong


  1. Thank you so much for reading along, Marg! You had some interesting insights that I never put together - especially the Poppy connection. I do wonder if that had anything to do with it!

    I find the whole story of Tyneham sad - it seems like no matter how many books I read on World War II, there are a never-ending supply of sad stories still waiting.

    I'm off to listen to the music!

  2. Carrie, there is a never ending supply of stories that I find satisfying to read.

    Thanks agsin for hosting the readalong and giving me the kick I needed to actually start reading this book. It had been on my TBR pile since it first came out!

  3. When, oh when will I get the time to read this? It sounds like such a great read, and I am enjoying reading the discussion. Can't wait to see what I think!

    1. I hope you do enjoy it if you read it Zibilee

  4. I've seen some positive reviews of this one, I love stories in WWII time frame. It's on my wishlist :)

    1. Teddyree, this book is a little unusual since the action is all the at-home experience.