Monday, 5 August 2013
Review: The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag
The blurb for The House at the End of Hope Street promised a whimsical, magical, delightful tale featuring literary and historical heroines and inspiring female characters. While the outline of those things are there, and it is lovely in parts, on the whole I felt it failed to deliver on its potential.
The story opens with Alba, whose life has hit rockbottom for unspecified reasons. Feeling utterly alone, she winds up on the doorstep of the titular house on Hope Street, and is welcomed by the quirky lady who runs the place. She is told she may stay for 99 days and that she will be inspired and helped by the house, like the many famous women who have been through it before her and who now (literally) speak from the portraits lining the walls.
I loved this book to start with. The magical house drew me in and the whimsy and beauty was all very exciting. But my enjoyment soon lagged. The plot development was rather slow, and the narrative was bogged down by the constant changing point of views. That’s right – we see into the head of pretty much every character that appears on the page. Sometimes we see inside the heads of each character as they are having a conversation with each other, and it all gets very confusing. It's just too much information. This overload of perspective made it hard to connect with any of the characters, let alone Alba, who I suppose was meant to be the main character but was overshadowed by the many other points of view.
As for the secondary characters, I did enjoy their stories more than Alba’s, and I especially liked Peggy, the house's landlady, for lack of a better word. But again I feel they all suffered from an overcrowded narrative, and were not as fleshed out as they might have been otherwise. I was particularly troubled by Carmen, a Portuguese singer who is also staying at the house. The way her accent was written was quite distracting and off-putting. Meanwhile, the antagonists were completely two-dimensional.
The many amazing literary and historical figures were also not utilised to their potential. Many times they were merely passing references, and when they are given a voice it just doesn’t feel right. I did like the rundown of who they are and what they did at the end of the book, but was disappointed with how they were used in the actual narrative.
I had been looking forward to a magical story in The House at the End of Hope St, but in the end I found it quite predictable and ordinary. I could tell what was going to happen with all the characters, and unfortunately it was way too cheesy and perfect for me. I like a happily ever after, but the way things worked out for EVERYONE so wonderfully was just a bit hard to swallow.
I really, really wanted to love this book. I thought I would. Unfortunately I liked the idea much more than the execution. It wasn’t terrible, but it could have been so much more.
Published: April 2013, Pamela Dorman Books
Get It: The Nile