“Paris, France: 1860s. Hundreds of houses are being razed, whole neighborhoods reduced to ashes. By order of Emperor Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann has set into motion a series of large-scale renovations that will permanently alter the face of old Paris, molding it into a ‘modern city.’ The reforms will erase generations of history—and in the midst of the tumult, one woman will take a stand.
Rose Bazelet is determined to fight against the destruction of her family home until the very end. As others flee, she stakes her claim in the basement of the old house on rue Childebert, ignoring the sounds of change that come closer and closer each day. Attempting to overcome the loneliness of her daily life, she begins to write letters to Armand, her beloved late husband. And as she delves into the ritual of remembering, Rose is forced to come to terms with a secret that has been buried deep in her heart for thirty years.”
Thoughts: The House I Loved is one novel that tries too hard. Through a combination of flashbacks and epistolary revelations to her long-dead husband, Rose Bazelet sets out to defend her actions, both past and present, to her friends, to future readers of the letter, and ultimately to readers of the novel. In doing so, she comes across as an emotionally-wrought woman driven to desperate measures in lieu of any other plan of action. Unfortunately, the sympathy and peace of mind she seeks to achieve turns into pity on the part of the reader, once her full actions become clear. One can easily imagine that this is not the response Tatiana de Rosnay was hoping to achieve with this, her third novel, but it is there all the same.
For one thing, she crafts The House I Loved to shock the reader with its secrets. To achieve this, a writer must balance the hints sprinkled throughout the novel in an effort to keep a reader’s interest while not unveiling too much too soon. Ms. de Rosnay, unfortunately, is not able to master the balance needed to be effective with this, and the “stunning” secret that is eventually revealed is one the reader can predict with ease much earlier in the novel. Once a reader guesses the secret, the entire story loses momentum and becomes nothing more than an old woman’s regrets and wishful thinking.
Furthermore, Ms. de Rosnay does not sufficiently set the stage for the reader to be able to understand Rose all that well. Any hints about the actual time frame of the novel do not occur until well after the midway point, where she finally mentions the names of key historical figures. If the story is about Rose’s personal rebellion against the inevitable, in addition to her unburdening of her soul to her long-dead husband, then Ms. de Rosnay fails to establish the historical context for the reader, so one may understand what was and what was not proper and acceptable behavior for a widow during this time frame. Without these key pieces of information, a reader is left wondering why Rose does not do more to fight her current situation. In other words, a reader will struggle connecting to Rose to be able to truly sympathize with her.
Kate Reading is an adequate narrator for this rather maudlin story. She conquers the French pronunciations with ease, even going so far as to over-pronounce them. This can be rather jarring at times for a listener, especially since all other narrations are accomplished with a decidedly English accent. Any additional fault with the narration, other than the French words, are less due to Ms. Reading’s performance and more due to the emotionally dense script of Ms. de Rosnay’s. She does a satisfactory job with the material she was given.
It is not as if The House I Loved is a horrible novel. It just is not very good either. While one cannot deny the tragedy that was the razing of houses and buildings in the name of modern city planning, the reader struggles to feel the same sense of tragedy for Rose’s predicament, largely because it was of her own doing. What starts out as grace and gentility quickly turns to melodrama as Rose’s end draws near. The end result is a novel that leaves a reader feeling restless as the story unfolds, wishing it would happen faster, and fairly unsatisfied at its ending, all for a story that had potential but fizzled all too quickly.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Esther Bochner from Macmillian Audio for my review copy!