NOTE: Scroll down for the actual book review which begins just after the “From the Jacket” and “About the Author” sections.
From the Jacket: A magical début about an enchanted house that offers refuge to women in their time of need.
Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.
She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.
About the Author: (Source: Taken from Menna’s Goodreads Author Page.) Menna van Praag was born in Cambridge, England and studied Modern History at Oxford University. Her first novella – an autobiographical tale about a waitress who aspires to be a writer – Men, Money & Chocolate has been translated into 26 languages. Her first work of literary fiction, The House at the End of Hope Street, was inspired by an idea the author had to set up a house for female artists to give them a year to fulfil their artistic ambitions. Her next novel, The Little Dress Shop of Dreams, is set on the magical street of All Saints Passage where a scientist falls in love with a mysterious man who has a magical voice. All Menna van Praag’s novels, excepting Happier Than She’s Ever Been, are set among the colleges, cafes and bookshops of Cambridge, England.
Book Review: First impressions – LOVE the artwork on the cover. Final impressions – definitely a captivating read from the first paragraph. Fresh, vibrant writing about an old, magical house at the end of Hope Street that’s only visible to women during their time of need. Like walking through Hogwarts School of Wizardry, long-dead women authors and celebrated women in history come to life to give advice, make observations, even scold the women seeking refuge in the house.
Main character, Alba, stumbles upon the house after a heart-breaking experience that ends her career and wounds her spirit. The mysteries of Alba’s family and upbringing unravel nicely during the narrative, as do the storylines of two other women (Greer and Carmen) inhabiting the home during Alba’s stay.
Peggy, a captivating character and care-taker of the house, explains to Alba the rules: She can stay for ninety-nine nights but after that, she must leave. Peggy explains: The house may not give you want you want, but it will give you what you need. A nice development in the storytelling is the plight of Peggy as she confronts her advancing age and the fate of the house. Peggy is a delightful, spunky octogenarian that I wish had more time in the novel because as caretaker of this mysterious house, I was very drawn to her and wanted to know more about her and the years she’s spent in the home.
Two secondary characters, Greer and Carmen, confront demons (sort of kind of literally, sort of kind of figuratively) in their lives, but I found it challenging at times to separate the two and wondered if they should have been drawn as one character so that Peggy would have the space to shine more in the narrative?
There are lovely storylines between Alba and other characters in the book including a librarian and a ghost that appears in the kitchen sink and sits with Alba as she wrestles with problems and unresolved issues in her life. Alba’s family takes center stage with tragic characters and circumstances. The completion of Alba’s time in the home wraps up nicely and with pleasant surprises.
A refreshing read filled with sensory writing and synesthesia, lovers of both literature and interesting women in history will enjoy this book for the sprinkling of surprising appearances of famous women that have inhabited the house during its 200 years. Because the book employs intriguing magical elements, it is a captivating read that will hold your attention from the first page – to the last.
The use of synesthesia reminded me of A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.