The House I Loved
by Tatiana de Rosnay
Published by St. Martins Press., NY 2012
Set in Paris in the 1860’s, it’s a tumultuous time for the city of love. Emperor Napoleon III has set the wheels in motion to modernize Paris, a plan to be carried out at the hands of Baron Haussmann. In layman’s terms houses, shops, hotels, restaurants and café’s will be torn down daily throughout the city to make way for the long straight boulevards that will forever change and modernize Paris. The winding medieval streets will be no more, and it is here that one woman takes a stand, and says, Not my home.
Rose Bazelet, refuses to leave the home she shared with her husband Armand. The home where she raised her family. The home where she‘s held her deepest secrets for over thirty years. With the workers drawing ever closer, pick axes at the ready, Rose hides herself away in the cellar and waits out the days until they will begin the demolition of her home. Rose begins to write a series of letters to her beloved, deceased Armand, and through these letters, she is revisits her past, baring to the light her greatest and worst moments for her own self examination. As the tragic thought of loosing her home becomes evermore real, it is in her self made solitude Rose is left to question if she will make her final stand in her home, or accept the fate of her beloved Childebert Street as many of her beloved neighbors were forced to do….
Emperor Napoleon III top left; White house in the center was the inspiration for Rose’s beloved home.
The novel opens with as a letter to Rose’s beloved Armand and in those first few lines De Rosnay sets the tone for the novel…
My Beloved,I can hear them coming up our street. It is a strange, ominous rumble. Thuds and blows. The floor aquiver under my feet. There are shouts too. Men’s voices, loud and excited. The whinny of horses, the stamp of hooves. It sounds like a battle, like in that hot and dreadful July when our daughter was born, or that bloody time when the barricades went up all over the city. It smells like a battle. Stifling clouds of dust. Acrid smoke. Dirt and rubble. I know the Hotel de Belfort has been destroyed….-Rose Bazelet – The House I Loved – 2012
Rose Bazelet bares her soul to her beloved Armand in these letters, and we are taken along as she tells her story with a natural flow that holds to no set format, letting the details come to her as they do. Anyone who has ever written a letter to a loved one can attest that de Rosnay’s style hits its mark with this method of writing. The letters draw you in, as they are both beautifully written, and give a fictional first hand account of factual events that occurred in Paris in the 1860’s. de Rosnay scored points with this reader for her ability to write an accurate fictional story with minimal liberties taken. In her opening author’s note she mentions that the streets used in the book did indeed exist 140 years ago (see photo above), and little was changed by way of dates, places and people. This tale catches the heart as you travel along with Rose on her journey to make peace with her life before her attachment to her memories…the house she loved…is lost to the Prefects pickaxes and sledge hammers.
The first person narrative seemed both bold and admittedly somewhat annoying at the beginning, however, upon completion of the book, it played well to the story being told. It left the reader feeling like they experienced it first hand by someone who had lived it as it unfolded. Definitely worth picking up and adding to one’s collection.
While the cover artwork ties into the story, it feels lacking of something that would make a reader take it off the shelf in the bookstore if not looking for it.
Would definitely read again!
This one was a tough sell for me at first. I got hands on it when it was selected as the local Book Club’s selection. Not certain it would appeal to me, I read nearly two thirds and then sort of lost interest. The last forty pages however did keep my interest and overall I felt it to be the best writing in the book. Having read the full novel, I would re-read to pick up all the finer points that are sometimes missed on the first read.
Wikipedia has a great article on:: Haussmann’s renovation of Paris
Here’s a link to Rose’s beloved Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Tatiana De Rosnay was born in 1961 in the suburbs of Paris. Her father is French scientist Joel de Rosnay . She was raised in both Paris and Boston, and in the early 1980’s obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. She has published 12 novels in French and three in English.
To learn more check http://www.tatianaderosnay.com/