First, I would just like to give a very heartfelt thank you to everyone who wrote such sweet things about my dog <3 You guys are the best. She seems to be doing better! Now, on to the review....
Tatiana de Rosnay's latest book, The House I Loved, tells the story of Rose, an older woman living in Paris in the 1860s, at the height of the renovations being done in Paris by Baron Haussmann. Whole neighborhoods are being torn down to create the huge boulevards we know and love in today's Paris. This, though is the story of a woman who is reluctant for the changes to take place, and who will do anything to stay in the house that she and her now deceased husband spent their life together in.
The House I Loved was a book I wanted to read as soon as I read the description. It takes place during Haussmann's renovations of Paris in the 1800s. I took a French class in college on Zola. We read two of his books, but we also learned a ton about Baron Haussmann. I learned a lot from a historian's perspective. This book is from the perspective of someone actually living through all of this in Paris, and worse yet is the fact that her house is going to be demolished to build a big boulevard. I'm sure many younger Parisians embraced the changes being made, like some of the characters in this book. Rose, however, is an old woman, a widow, and the renovations greatly affect her.
"Living in Paris under the reign of our Emperor and our Prefect was like living in a beseiged city invaded daily by dirt, rubble, ashes and mud. Our clothes, shoes and hats were always dusty. Our eyes always stung, our hair was perpetually thick with a fine gray powder." (page 64)
I loved that the book was told through a long letter that Rose writes to her deceased husband Armand. Tatiana de Rosnay's portrayal of an older woman was, to me, very spot on. She reminded me a lot of my grandmother. Through the letter, I really felt the love Rose felt for her husband, and also the emptiness she now feels without him.
"Ten years is a long time, is it not, Armand? Writing this letter to you brings you remarkably close. I can almost feel you looking over my shoulder as I write this, your breath on my neck." (page 82)
I was warmed inside whenever Rose looked back on memories of an every day thing that she misses about her husband. Because when you've lost someone, it's the regular, "boring", every day things that you truly miss about that person and when you really feel their absense. It was touching when Rose wrote about Armand's long illness. Although it was hard to care for him and watch him forget who she was, she still loved him as much as ever.
My favorite character was Alexandrine, the woman who owns the flower shop below Rose's house. She was a very strong woman, and she definitely proves to be a true friend to Rose. It's Alexandrine who helped Rose to continue on after the death of Armand.
What was a bit strange about the book was how I felt like I knew all the characters so well, even though Rose was really just writing about them all in her letter to Armand. And Armand, I felt I knew him really well.
This book left me near tears, and I was thinking about it for days after finishing it. I kept thinking about Rose and her resilience. She was going to save her house or stay in it even if the city told her to leave. She didn't want to stay for the house itself. She wanted to stay because of the love she felt and the memories she made within that house. That house was her connection to her deceased husband. And that, to me, is something worth hanging on to.
Some other favorite quotes:
Page 4: "You have been gone for ten years now. A century to me."
Page 87: "You were a quiet man, yet you took up a vast amount of silent space and that was what I missed."
Page 190: "The house bore the story of our love in its inner structure, in its quaint beauty. The house was my link to you, forever. By losing the house, I would again lose you."
Title: The House I Loved
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Date of Publication: 2012
Number of Pages: 222
Source: Personal Copy