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Monday, April 21, 2014

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

Title:  The House at the End of Hope Street

Author: Menna van Praag
Publisher:  April 4th 2013 by Viking Books
ISBN:1101606363 (ISBN13: 9781101606360)
Pages:  ebook 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC
Genre: magical realism, female empowerment
My Rating: 3.5 Crowns


A magical debut 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 George Eliot and Beatrix Potter, 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.
Filled with a colorful and unforgettable cast of literary figures, "The House at the End of Hope Street" is a charming, whimsical novel of hope and feminine wisdom that is sure to appeal to fans of Jasper Fforde and especially Sarah Addison Allen. 


Do you ever wish you could just run away? Just have some adult ‘time out’ to work through the goings on in your life? The House at the End of Hope Street is the kind of place one would escape to for just such a purpose. It’s a magical house in Cambridge England that can only be seen by women in need, women who have in many ways, lost hope. Women who find this house are given the opportunity to sort through their lives in this refuge but they must do so within ninety-nine days. Why ninety-nine days? “Well, I think because it’s long enough to help you turn your life around and short enough so you can’t put it off forever”.

This is a delightful book, very much along the Sarah Addison Allen lines; the kind of book one curls up with on a comfy couch with a hot drink. The style is magical realism, so put away the everyday and escape from reality as you embark on a journey with four women. It is a relaxing read yet also contains some difficult situations that characters have to face but the tone remains optimistic throughout.

The house is the real attraction of this novel, “it is the home she dreamed of as a little girl. Somewhere soft and loving, where the walls breathe, the garden hides secrets, the inhabitants lift your spirits and the kitchen soothes your soul”. It’s the way the house communicates with its occupants, providing a healing refuge for them to gain perspective and sends encouraging notes and noises to gently push the women in the right direction. The banter between the historical figures that are in the picture frames around the house (think of Harry Potter paintings) is comical and clever. The end of the book contains a “Guide to the Women of Hope Street” with a brief biographical outline of the historical figures mentioned in the book.

This is not great literature in terms of storyline or plot – nothing new is revealed here. What is incredibly special about this book is the writing. Menna van Praag knows how to write! The author details the most amazing vivid imagery and descriptions, my highlight of quotes is extensive. Just like Zoe listening to Alba, “some of (the) sentences were so lyrical that Zoe spoke them aloud just to hear the words.”

My only negative comment pertains to the quick change between characters voices, so subtle I often missed it and had to go back to check whose story I was now reading. A few times I could not tell and got lost with characters and past and present. But this was a minor issue in comparison to the overall satisfaction one gets from reading this book - the overall message of personal empowerment and doing what is right for you.

“There is no going back in life. No return. No second chance. When you waste your days, they are wasted forever. So be honest about the things you really want, and do them, no matter how fearful you might be”.


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