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

I cheated on my NaNoWriMo debt with this gorgeous book, and this review has been tugging at my heart to be written ever since.


When child-genius Alba flees from her tattered Cambridge academic career and her fraught family, she never dreams that the door she feels so strangely drawn to could be so remarkable. 11 Hope Street, with Peggy, its tough and elderly caretaker, shelters women from their fears and failed plans for ninety-nine days. During those days, they must find a way to deal with what has driven them there, with the help of the other residents, the women who maintain the House, the House itself, and the (sometimes unsolicited!) advice of the photographs of previous residents which adorn the walls. As Carmen confronts her secrets, Alba discovers her path, and Greer faces up to her inevitable future, time is running out. For when their ninety-nine days are up, they must all re-enter the world, ready or not.

I love sentient Houses so much it’s literally my favourite thing ever. And the way that this House intercedes in its residents’ affairs is so tender and kind. This is a tender and kind novel, which deals with a variety of complex issues which, while not unique to women, are experienced by women uniquely. Whether past love, or fears of the future, these women grow stronger in this loving sisterhood, all trying to support one another while dealing with problems of their own. There are a few famous-face cameos, mostly in the form of the talking portraits on the walls. What’s clever is that this book treats all these issues so well, allowing the space for each woman to make her own mistakes, mourn her losses and celebrate her triumphs. I think we’ve all wished we could escape the world for a time, but what 11 Hope Street shows is that the escape is only worthwhile if you come back stronger, and ready to deal with what’s ahead, or what chases behind.

The style of it reminds me a lot of Eva Ibbotson’s adult fiction. While her books were mostly about very grand, very heterosexual, romances, there was one story which I believe was released as an eBook after her sad death. It was called Madensky Square, and while a romance is one of its storylines, it is so much more complex, and deals with relationships between women in all situations, no matter how unconventional (though still very heterosexual). I re-read that compulsively whenever I need something comforting, with bold, brave women forging their own path, and I know I’ll re-read The House at the End of Hope Street for exactly the same reason. It’s Madensky Square updated – complete with non-heterosexual representation! Though I can’t say any more than that without undermining one of my favourite twists of the story…

In conclusion you should all read this, and I have to stop writing now because I have to go and devour Menna’s other books, thanks, bye!

-Rachel


The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag
Published by Pamela Dorman Books in April 2013
Buy it from the Book Depository here.

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