Book review: The House At The End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag

17 Jun

hope streetDistraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included George Eliot and Beatrix Potter, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers-literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds-and maybe even save her life.

As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of books with an element of magic or magical realism in them. It’s quite rare though to find books set in the UK that fall into the genre so when I saw Menna van Praag’s books with their beautiful covers on a Tweet from Cambridge Waterstone’s, I was very excited. And when publisher, Allison and Busby contacted me to see if I’d like to review them, I jumped at the chance. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing all three of Menna’s books. I start today with The House at the End of Hope Street, a story of love, family, hope and magic set mainly in Cambridge.

Menna’s writing is beautiful and she immediately drew me in with rich descriptions and more than a hint of magic and mystery right from the first sentence. I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen and Menna’s writing has a similar warmth and turn of phrase that captures the magic of everyday things and unveils a hidden world within our own world. This is a story where the line between ‘real’ and magic blur and I love the idea that those who wish or need to see magic, can.

The house of the title appears to those in need and what a wonderful home it is. I loved the premise of a place of refuge that allows those who stay there time to contemplate, recover (if necessary) and gently pushes them towards a brighter and more hopeful future. Despite its hopeful premise, there is a lot of sadness in the story which touches on themes of loss, mental health and abusive relationships. There is also heartache and Menna skilfully balances the darker sides of the story with the themes of moving forward, love and hope to create a story that will stay with me.

The little descriptive details like teacups with fairy tale characters that have interesting relationships and notes that appear from nowhere with slightly cryptic guidance written on them, had me captivated and reading The House At The End of Hope Street felt modern yet timeless and I enjoyed the fairy tale qualities of the book. Like all good fairy tales, the story examines light and dark and isn’t afraid to address the harsher aspects of living in the world that we live in by examining love and the opposite feelings in depth and the story struck me by showing the cruelties and deceptions that humans are capable of as well as the kindnesses and care.

All of the characters in the story are flawed and I liked that the house didn’t just solve their problems for them; it actively tried to help and guide them but they had to do the hard work themselves. The book is populated by a host of wonderful characters; authors, musicians, actresses, book lovers and many famous names through history. My absolute favourite character in the book was Peggy;  the ‘mother’ of the house in the story. The house has passed through generations of her family. I loved her sense of duty and sense of humour.

Alba, Greer and Carmen are all lost in their own way and all very different individuals. Alba is young academic, extremely clever but prone to hiding behind the history books she loves and she’s just had her heart broken and her promising academic future put under threat. Greer wants to be an actress but parts are drying up and she also longs for a family. Carmen is hiding a dark secret and running from a painful past. Her secret love is music but she’s buried her talent in fear.

I loved how Menna made The House At The End of Hope Street a love story to the arts, beautifully capturing the joys that books, music and theatre can bring.  A thoughtful, magical, beautiful book – add it to your shelves now!

5/5

The House At The End of Hope Street is out now in Paperback and Ebook formats from Allison & Busby.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Menna and her writing at: http://www.mennavanpraag.com/

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