Book Review: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay

by Jenn (eating bender) on November 1, 2012

It seems appropriate to post a book review to kick off November, which also happens to be National Novel Writing Month. I have to admit that when I realized this morning that I haven’t posted an update on my writing to the blog since May, it made me really sad. It’s easy for me to blame it on the fact that we’ve been busy moving across the country and searching for our first home, but in reality I know that I’ve been slacking on my commitment to writing every day. Could it really have been as far back as February that I visited Prescott for novel research?

I am really grateful to still have family and friends who believe in me, who ask me on a regular basis how things are going. Their faith combined with my stubborn determination are what put my butt in the so-called writing chair on the mornings where it all seems overwhelming. But I know I could do better, and I want to do better. Reading Caitlin’s 168 hours posts makes me more aware than ever that we have more time than we think, and certainly more time than we tell other people we have.

No more excuses.

One of my biggest sources of inspiration this week is J.K. Rowling. That may be a very unoriginal sentence, but my reasoning has nothing to do with Harry Potter (I know, shocking). I just finished The Casual Vacancy last night. This book has gotten very mixed reviews, but personally I loved it. I thought it might be difficult to separate her from Harry but I did, and wow – J.K. Rowling is a great author, period. I plan to share more at a later date (it’s the next choice in our book club, so I don’t want to give away too much yet) but for now, let’s just say that I’ve found it motivating that the woman who is the brains behind one of the most incredibly successful book series in history was able to separate herself from those characters and create something dramatically different.

Speaking of book club, we just finished our latest read: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay.

In Short

Maybe it’s because I’m such a huge fan of Tatiana de Rosnay’s bestseller Sarah’s Key, but I found that the structure of this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Several people on Goodreads agreed – it’s very well-written and the topic is interesting, but there’s a big part of me that felt this novel (which wasn’t long to begin with) could have been more of a short story. I don’t want to come across as too critical because overall, I was engrossed in the plot and grew to care about Rose, the protagonist, as she struggled against the Napoleonic government’s destruction of her home. And I would definitely recommend this book if you are intrigued by the history of Paris because I had no idea that so much was destroyed in order to create the city as we know it today.

The Details

The setting for this novel is Paris in the 1860s. Emperor Napoleon III (the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) has ordered the city’s prefect, Baron Haussmann, to put into motion a series of large-scale renovations that promise to rebuild Paris into a modern city. The problem? In doing so, hundreds of homes will be demolished and entire neighborhoods will be reduced to nothing, thereby erasing generations of history and displacing residents and business owners of all ages and walks of life. Of course there is an initial public outcry, but in reality there is very little that people can do other than accept the money they are given and leave before the government comes literally knocking down their door. At the opening of the book, it seems that pretty much everyone has come to accept their fate but Rose Bazelet, the protagonist.

For Rose, this is more than just the destruction of her family home – it is a desecration of the memory of her husband Armand, who was born, raised and ultimately died there. Rose has resigned herself to doing whatever it takes to fight against an inevitable end by hiding herself in the basement of the house on rue Childebert and ignoring the sounds of crumbling buildings around her. The book is written as a letter from Rose to her late husband. In the letter, she shares a sequence of memories, each one harder to face than the next until a 30-year-old buried secret is revealed.

At times, I thought the letter writing format was a bit overemphasized. There would be lines directed at Armand such as, “as you know” or “I can’t talk about this yet,” which to a reader can feel frustrating because 1) we don’t necessarily already know and 2) we don’t want to be told we can’t talk about something until later, we want to be kept on our toes and eagerly read until we get there. But the letter format does help to convey the magnitude of Rose’s love for her husband, and just how far she is willing to go to protect the house they loved. She is certainly a brave and strong woman! For me, this book serves as a tribute to women and citizens like Rose living in Paris during this tumultuous time of uprooting, as well as a reminder that where we live can “house” our happiest and our saddest memories within the walls.

Ultimately, I would recommend Sarah’s Key before the The House I Loved, but I really respect Tatiana de Rosnay’s appreciation for the history of Paris and find that regardless of plot, her writing is beautiful and thought-provoking.

Have you read The House I Loved or any other books by Tatiana de Rosnay?

I’m hoping to check out her other book, A Secret Kept, at some point, too.

Happy November! Let’s make it a great month. :)

Abrazos,

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicole @ The Marvelous Misadventures of a Foodie November 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm

The book sounds really interesting – I havent read Sarah’s Key yet so I’d probably go with that one first, but I’ve always had a soft spot for all things Paris :)

And I’m excited for you to jump back into writing again! I love hearing about people pursuing their passion :)

PS – what is this book club you speak of?? I’ve always wanted to be in a book club…maybe we can start one here in AZ? haha Or perhaps 2 book clubs are a bit much to ask of you :)
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2 Jenn (eating bender) November 1, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Nicole I would LOVE to start a book club in Arizona! The one I’m in right now is a virtual book club with my sister-in-laws, but I think it would be awesome to do something here, too! And I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to be in a book/wine club, where we pick a different book and type of wine each month (or however often we meet) to make it even more fun. :) I’m going to email you so we can chat more about it!

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3 Cara (Twinthusiast) November 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Great review, Jenn. Although I was disappointed in the book overall, I appreciated the message she was going for. Also, I think moving and finding your home are pretty good writing “excuses”, but if it’s going to make you feel better – get back to business this month! (Maybe I can take a draft peek in a few weeks…)
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4 Jenn (eating bender) November 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Thank you for cutting me some slack! ;) I’m the first to admit that I’m harder on myself than anyone else is, but I do really want to get back to business this month. It’s my goal to have something for you to read soon – now I can’t promise what that “something” is, exactly, but…something!

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5 Katie R November 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm

I read “Sarah’s Key” and thought it was a very interesting and engaging read. However, “The House I loved” was a challenge for me to finish. I listened to it while running, which did not help my runs pass by more quickly. Perhaps if I had been reading, I could have skimmed over some of the slower parts, but by running to it, I had to listen (or zone out…ooops) the entire time. The author did do an amazing job describing the city, which was nice for a bit, but I longed for more action.

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6 Jenn (eating bender) November 5, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I felt the same way, Katie! I’ll be curious to read her other books, for sure.

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7 Chelsea @ Designs on Dinner November 1, 2012 at 8:41 pm

I’m actually really glad to hear your thoughts on ‘The Casual Vacancy.’ I have been scared to read it, so I think I will bump it up to sooner rather than later. Thanks for another book review!
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8 Jenn (eating bender) November 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Awesome! I’ll be very interested to hear what you think of it.

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9 Melissa @TryingtoHeal November 2, 2012 at 10:26 am

Somehow I didn’t know she had written any other books but I lovvvvvved Sarah’s Key. I cried so hard when I read it! Maybe I’ll check out her other book before I move to this one, see if it’s just as good, or not. Meh.

Think I should read JK Rowlings new novel? I’ve been contemplating getting it on my kindle, but i have a few other books i haven’t read yet…like The Room? Have you heard of that one?
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10 Jenn (eating bender) November 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I cried my eyes out while reading Sarah’s Key, too! And yes, I would definitely recommend The Casual Vacancy. It’s by no means Harry Potter but I enjoyed the complexity of all the characters. I’ve also read Room – it’s a really quick but hauntingly interesting read. I’d recommend it for sure!

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11 Susan November 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I’m enjoying The Casual Vacancy so far – good pick! Sooo different from the HP series, which makes sense, since she wouldn’t want people making unfair comparisons to such an awesome set o’ books. :) Good insights about The House I Loved, too. I completely agree that it seemed more appropriate for a short story than a novel. Looking forward to our next discussion over Christmas!

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12 Jenn (eating bender) November 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Yay! I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying it and I think you’re right – definitely a good strategy to make it vastly different than HP. Can’t wait to chat about it over a nice mug o’ coffee at Christmas. :)

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