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Saturday, June 4, 2016

The House of Dreams by Kate Lord Brown

Title: The House of Dreams: A Novel
Author: Kate Lord Brown
Publisher: 10 May 2016 by St. Martins Press/Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction
My Rating: 2.5 crowns


An international bestseller, Kate Lord Brown's debut novel The Perfume Garden has sold especially well in Canada, where it was selected as Read of the Month for June 2015 and made it to the Globe & Mail bestseller list. The House of Dreams combines Brown's lovely, lyrical writing and signature interwoven past/present narrative style with an even more commercial time period and a fascinating real-life story.

In 2000, Gabriel Lambert is a celebrated painter who hides a dark secret. Sophie Cass, a journalist struggling to begin her career and with a family connection to Lambert, is determined to find the truth about his past and the little known story of the real Casablanca.

In 1940, an international group of rescue workers, refugee intellectuals, and artists gather in the beautiful old Villa Air Bel just outside Marseilles. American journalist Varian Fry and his remarkable team at the American Relief Center are working to help them escape France, but "the greatest man-trap in history" is closing in on them. Despite their peril, true camaraderie and creativity flourishes - while love affairs spring up and secrets are hidden. At the House of Dreams, young refugee artist Gabriel Lambert changed the course of his life - and now, sixty years later at his home in the Hamptons, the truth is finally catching up with him. 

My Thoughts

"When I think back to the war, my memories are all of the house of dreams. Our greatest joys and tragedies played out there." 

I am finding it difficult to reconcile my thoughts on this book. The 1940's story revolves around the ARC (The American Relief Centre) run by Varian Fry (known as an "America's Schindler.") His objective was to help well known artists escape from the ravages of war torn Europe. The 2000 story, revolves around Gabriel Lambert, who escaped France and has kept many secrets about his past hidden, but a journalist is trying to uncover the truth about his past. 

"They were risking everything to help people whose work had changed the world. Whose work will change the world ... I'm going to get every name on that list out of France if it kills me."

The House of Dreams book was nothing at all like what I anticipated. Told in the first person, from varying characters’ point-of-view, it was difficult to follow at times, you really need to pay attention to who is narrating without getting overly involved with stories on the fringes. Also, the shift in timelines made the writing somewhat disjointed and confusing. I did not really connect with any of the characters and I find this a little disappointing as the premise could really have been fascinating with Varian Fry obviously deserving this moment of recognition. But Gabriel Lambert's story I really struggled with. The further I read, I just lost all curiosity about what the big secret may turn out to be. It was so long winded at times, it was just plain boring. 

It is obviously a complex and involved plot but the author's approach with various character narrators and timeline shifts made this difficult to appreciate. In my humble opinion, the focus should have been on Varian Fry's gallant efforts and the challenges he faced - a standalone novel on its own. Bringing in Lambert's perspective and past secrets, well it just seemed like two separate tales - neither done well. Focus and simplification were really required here. Sophie and Vita were not seemingly essential and seemed to serve only as an opening into other plots. I had a hard time reading this book. It just did not engage me as a reader and it's a shame for the author presented snippets of some magical prose:

"My throat is tight, suddenly, at the thought of all the days .... that have gone by unremarked, and I lay my head against the door. The sand is running over the smooth hip of the hourglass."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

1 comment:

Mystica said...

A new one for me so I appreciated the post. Thanks.