With her intriguingly beautiful name, Menna van Praag invited me in. She opened the door to The House at the End of Hope Street.
“at night the house looks like a Victorian orphanage housing a hundred despairing souls, but when the clouds part and it is lit by moonlight, the house appears enchanted. As if Rapunzel lives in the tower and a hundred Sleeping Beauties lie in the beds.”
I was invited in, only because this lovely book enchanted its way into my hands. I was welcomed to a gentle waft of freshly baked biscuits that filled my nostrils. I wanted very much to be in the kitchen, it was a special place in the book. Then again, so was the bathroom and hallway. A bit strange to think of a bathroom that way. And yet, I mostly wanted to sneak in to the forbidden room. You’ll see why, when you read the book.
The author offered my heart and my tired feet, comfort, tea, ginger biscuits and chocolate cake. I love chocolate cake or just regular chocolate – and extremely dark -for breakfast. I thought I was the only one, until I met Peggy. Lovely, mysterious Peggy. She lives in the house. She is beautiful, ethereal and elderly. She has chocolate cake for breakfast, she has a mysterious garden that is hers and hers alone. The garden invites no one, but I went there. It is stunning. The colors make you dance and smile or sit quietly and read. It is off-limits to all but Peggy, just like her bedroom in the tower. Peggy has a lover, Harry. He seems lovely. She also has Mog. He loves to startle. Every now and then, he would brush by my legs as I read. When I turned the pages, there he was again, swishing his tail, eyeing me lazily, daring me to reveal him. Mog is a cat. He is invisible. The house lives, it is filled with gentle whispers, advice, comfort and sometimes banging doors – A show of disapproval.
The cast of characters are silkily but strongly woven into the walls and heart of the House at Hope Street. Everyone has a deep wound, a secret. Somehow, they are not as in- congruent a bunch, as we think. Secrets are not all revealed at once, and there is a reason for everything. So utterly unique, the book is an original in my opinion, for everything is extraordinary, empowering and delicious. Whether you are an English major or not, or you simply love literature, or old libraries, especially Cambridge England, you will embrace the house. Well um, if you can find it. It is not to be found until you need it. Did I confuse you? ah! but therein lies the beauty of this book.
The house is filled with people, not necessarily alive. They are there to help, advise and smile. They offer help when it is not needed, sometimes intruding on private moments. But they are always there, visible to those that need them. In this quirky, lovely, not visible to all, house, the dead are not your average bunch. They are Sylvia Plath, Beatrix Potter, George Elliot, Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Dorothy Parker and many more. I will not reveal how they help or where they are, for that is the joy of discovering ‘The House.’
I will say…
Alba Ashby is lost in more ways than one. She is smart, introverted and well read. She is the youngest PhD student at Cambridge University when she experiences the worst event of her life. She finds herself at number 11 Hope Street, where she is welcomed by Peggy. Given ninety-nine days to pull her life together, Alba discovers the house, she really does. Amazed and stunned at first, she settles in, reads voraciously, her heart healing gently. She is not really interested in the other guests, nor does she want to be their friend – Carmen a sumptuous beauty and singer, terrified by something buried under a plant in the garden and Greer, an actress, who hides quite a secret. Alba wants very much to keep to herself. When she meets Stella, a ghost, living in the house. Alba is even more withdrawn, almost jealously guarding her new friendship, as they bond over tea and biscuits. Alba learns as much as she helps, unknowingly. Her family, however, is tricky. Her past really does influence her present and she is very much a character who reveals herself in layers. Oh, and if you notice the purple writing at the beginning, Alba sees the world in many colors and deep purple stands for wisdom. Yet, through it all, I loved Greer. Her character surprised me the most.
I was struck by how beautifully the story unfolded. No dramatic climaxes and no tedious details. It ends as simply as it began. It is a story for women who seek a change. A story for lovers of literature. A story of refuge, of charm and whimsy. Ninety – nine perfect chocolate and biscuit filled days at the House – Who does not need that?
Book – The House at the end of Hope Street By Menna van Praag
- Hardback, 280 pages
- Published by, Viking, Penguin
- First Edition, 2013
- ISBN 978-0-670-78463-9