— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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April 2, 2012

The House I Loved



As it turns out, although there were some flowers, and Worth dresses, and books, ant gilded drawing rooms, The House I Loved {by Tatiana de Rosnay} is not as gentle a book as it seemed it would be. It's a wonderful premise for a novel:  when Rose Bazalet and her neighbors are told that their houses -- and their street, all of the neighborhood -- will be razed to make room for the new avenues Baron Haussman is designing for Paris, she refuses to leave the house that she and her family loved.

The story is told almost entirely in Rose's voice, as she writes a series of letters to her late (and beloved) husband, Armand. She tells him what has been happening since he died, about the friendships that she has made and the devastation {very powerfully described} created by the new plan for the city.  There are flashbacks to their meeting and marriage, Rose's cold mother and her kind mother-in-law, and the sudden death of their young son. As she hides in the basement, a kindly tramp beings her food and watches over her, and there is a wonderful scene where Rose and her neighbors walk across the frozen Seine on a very cold winter day. It's a book full of little vignettes, and historical details, and a chance to spend time in 19th-century Paris.

But it is also clear that there is something that Rose needs to confess, as she tries to gather her thoughts and finish her last letter before the house is torn down over her. What she tells him seems a little forced and gratuitous, a second story that, after everything else that has happened, takes something away from the first one.

I listened to The House I Loved as an audiobook, narrated by Kate Reading, and it works very well in this format.

2 comments:

JoAnn said...

This sounds like a good candidate for a Paris in July read/listen!

Bellezza said...

I can imagine that listening to the letters being read would make their author come more alive. Sometimes, audio is the perfect format for a book (Room was a book which was that way for me.)

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