When I checked The House at The End of Hope Street out of the library, it seemed like the perfect read. For fans of Sarah Addison Allen? Check. A magical house where portraits of famous women speak to the inhabitants? Bring it on. And chocolate cake with lots of cream for breakfast? Who couldn’t get behind that? Upon reading it, however, I found the reality a bit different. On the one hand, I loved the magical house, and Menna van Praag’s writing style is very readable. On the other hand, the plot went to a bit of a different place than I expected.
The really interesting thing, however, is that it wasn’t the plot’s destination that bothered me significantly. (For most of the book, the lesbian romance is only hinted at, but it does become prominent at the conclusion.) Openly embracing a homosexual lifestyle is in direct opposition to my beliefs, yes, but I know not everyone shares those beliefs. What bothered me far more was the nature of the problems all of the female protagonists seemed to be facing. Affairs, dead-end (sexual) relationships, unrequited love, failure to recognize true love…I truly believe that relationships are incredibly important, but focusing all of the women’s problems around sexual relationships or romantic love oversimplifies both the female gender and life itself. The solutions to some of the women’s problems don’t involve either of those things, but isn’t it a tad insulting to women to assume that their problems are, in a broad sense, all the same?
Sadly, I’m unable to be as precise and powerful in this review as I wanted to be; it happens when you finish a book on vacation and don’t get to review it until a couple of weeks (and several books) later. The other criticism I can still support (without re-reading half the book) is van Praag’s characterization. Most of the characters were decently drawn and interesting, but the villains in Alba’s life are lamentably one-dimensional. They all have their one motivation or character trait that explains their subsequent actions; there doesn’t appear to be anything else to them. Ultimately, then, as much as I did actually enjoy the book, I can’t see myself recommending it. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop, but if I had it to do over again? I probably wouldn’t start. On the other hand, if I’d loved where the plot went, I’d likely feel differently.
I suppose that means that the decision is up to you.