The premise of Tatiana de Rosnay’s recent novel; The House I Loved, could not fit the criteria for Paris in July more perfectly if it tried:
Paris, 1869. Houses are being razed, whole neighbourhoods reduced to ashes. By order of Emporer Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann has set into motion a series of large-scale renovations that will permanently transform Paris into a modern city.
In the midst of the tumult, one woman will take a stand…
Having grown to know and love Paris so intimately over the years, the idea of a novel devoted entirely to the human stories surrounding the construction of the beautiful city we know and love today is hugely exciting. Although it is all too easy to daydream about those wide leafy boulevards and blue-grey six-story buildings that make the City of Lights the top destination for artists and lovers from all over the world, we quickly forget the homesteads and businesses razed to make way for modernisation. De Rosnay’s intriguing novel has been shifting on and off my wishlist for months as my head became skewed by the plethora of reviews out there that veer from the complementary to the very scathing indeed. What to do? Finding this slim volume at a cut price at Brierlow Bar and bearing our Frenchy-themed month in mind, I felt it was time to throw the gauntlet down….
Rose Bazelet, mother and widower, is a Parisienne through and through and the house she loves lies in the shadow of the Église Saint Germain. De Rosnay’s story is the sad tale of the destruction of her family home, steeped in memories of her children and deceased husband Armand, with whom she corresponds throughout the book. As Baron Haussmann reshapes the city, paying citizens to leave their homes, Rose shifts backwards and forwards in time and we revisit both delightful and tragic moments in her past; the dramatic and soon to be forgotten history of the rue Childebert.
Had I seen the ‘chick-lit’ style US cover to this novel (right) that I feel more accurately reflects the tone of De Rosnay’s writing rather than the British publication (left), to be perfectly honest, I would probably not have picked this up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the very lightest of fiction, however I simply don’t get that much from it. Although I confess that prior to reading The House I Loved I wasn’t familiar Tatiana de Rosnay’s other writing (although I know Sarah’s Key has been a huge success), this book, although holding glimmers of substance in some of the peripheral characters and story lines, just felt a little predictable and overly sentimental for my tastes. Flowers, books, letters, yawn.
Although the entertainment factor is ever-present and I would probably have lapped this up whilst sat on a sun lounger somewhere, I’m not on holiday and had the book not been set in Paris I really wouldn’t have given a fig. Having said that, aside from the constant referrals to that evil ‘Haussmann’ (a large degree of artistic license being used here rather than historical fact I suspect…) this book could have been set in any time in any place. Although I’ve just bought my first house myself and could therefore sympathise with the importance of the home and the memories you hold within it, particularly of those who aren’t with us any more, Rose just lay it on a little thick and, although I perhaps had some unfair expectations from the start, the story left me feeling a little bored and unconvinced.
Some great ideas De Rosnay, it’s just a real shame I’m not your market… One lucky local clearly is though – this book called snaffled up from the book box at my train station as soon as I popped it in! Spread the bookish love!
Boulevard des Capucines by Tekniska museet via Flickr