The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag

There have been so many times in my life that I needed this house. Undoubtedly, everyone has needed this house at least once in her life.This is such a wonderful, soothing, cheerful, up-lifting book I would recommend it to anyone who is generally as negative about life as I am. It really isn’t my usual kind of book; maybe I need to change my usual kind of book. One review I read said that it felt like “a big hug.”

I was feeling that I had been overdoing it on the mysteries and needed a change of pace. (This blog is, after all, All Books Considered.) I had read about this book somewhere and had ordered it sometime ago. I wish I had read it sooner.

Part modern romantic fiction, part fantasy (low), part feminist history, the eponymous house exists for women who have lost all hope. Only those women can see the house; it is invisible to anyone who doesn’t need it (and men). A woman can only stay ninety-nine days; usually, that is sufficient time for the house to give the woman hope and show her the way to her new life.

The house has been in Peggy’s family for centuries, and some of its guests have been Daphne du Maurier, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Emmeline Pankhurst, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, and Mary Somerville. There are also some ghosts who returned or, in the case of the cat, never left. The guests in this book are Alba, Carmen, and Greer, who are all at the end of their endurance, without anywhere to go, without friends, without hope.

The house sends the three messages when they need them, objects that they need to find their bearings, and advice from the previous residents. Imagine getting writing advice from Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker! The house doesn’t tell the women what to do; it just makes suggestions. And everything that happens to the women while they are in the house isn’t happy; however, things seem to work out for the best and the women learn from their experiences.

This book has inspired me to go back and read the Victorians – one of my eternal resolutions, I just keep getting distracted. Sarah Addison Allen is compared to this author in several reviews. I’m not familiar with her because I am not, as I said, attracted to contemporary fiction, certainly not the “big hug” kind, but I will keep my mind open and investigate her books.

At any rate, I highly recommend this book. Maybe, like the house, I saw it just when I needed to.

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