I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag
Published by Pamela Dorman Books on April 4th 2013
Genres: Chick-Lit, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Source: the Publisher
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.
“If you stay I can promise you this. This house may not give you what you want, but it will give you what you need. And the even that brought you here, the thing you think is the worst thing that’s ever happened? When you leave, you’ll realize it was the very best thing of all.”
Alba, Carmen and Greer all recently experienced life-changing events that they never thought they could possibly persevere over, and that’s when they discovered the House on Hope Street.To me, magical realism is based in contemporary with subtle magical undertones. When well done, magical realism has the ability to absorb you so completely in the story that all of the magical elements become real and possible. With ‘Hope Street’ it was so magical and at times far-fetched in the belief department I would almost go so far as to consider it a lite-fantasy novel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
From the very first page, I knew that this novel would require a suspension of disbelief when Alba walks into a strangers house and immediately accepts the offered invitation to stay for 99 days so she could get her life back on track. Alba had never been there before and had never seen the house before, yet had felt safer within those walls than she had in a long time. Hm. What I never quite understood was their complete acceptance of the ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ events that were taking place in the house. Like the talking pictures of deceased individuals or the letters that the ‘house’ would leave for them. I would’ve at least liked a moment of aw by these characters in regards to the amazement they felt towards the house rather than an immediate blind acceptance without question.
Much is disclosed about all of the characters, yet I had a hard time liking or ‘feeling’ anything for any of them. Alba is an intellectual prodigy and is fighting internal battles over a personal secret, Carmen is from Portugal and has run away from a bad situation but it always manages to follow her, and Greer is healing after heartbreak and trying to discover what she wants in life. In addition to the women, there are two incredibly tortured male characters that provided additional yet unnecessary drama. Albert had an affair with a woman two decades ago, fathered her child, yet she ended up returning to her husband and forcing him out of her life. He spent the rest of his life waiting and hoping she would come back to him. Blake has resolved to never marry and frequently cheats on whoever he’s with in order to avoid feeling anything for her. He says he does this because his mother left him when he was young. The amount of dramatic effect that was added to all the characters was in excess. It made them less realistic and made me less likely to empathize with them.
The frequently alternating POVs (I wasn’t even trying to keep track of the different POVs but I remember 9 just off the top of my head) was distracting at first but once you get a handle on the chaotic mess of characters it did become slightly easier to follow. I did think that each character section was far too short and ultimately created a jarring effect whenever the switch in POV was made. Also jarring, was the fact that it felt the story jumped around in time and I was always unclear how much time had passed.
I was hoping for a light, fluffy read, something that would fit that cutesy cover that drew me in to begin with. There were some good bits where I found myself really enjoying it but unfortunately, the chaotic mess of characters with a ridiculous amount of problems and the implausibility of the whole thing lessened my overall enjoyment.