The House I Loved by Tatiana De Rosnay
Ah, this is a great story. Having read Sarah's Key, I expected a good read and saved it for a time when I'd be able to enjoy a leisurely few days getting lost in a solid story, but once I began I couldn't even come up for air. I went through it too fast, and now it's over. I want more so I have to read it again.
The book is set in Paris in the 1860's, a period of colossal upheaval caused by the Emperor Napoleon's renovations to the city. Houses and businesses are being torn down and streets ripped up to make way for broader boulevards and more modern buildings. Neighbourhoods are wiped out and people are forced to relocate without regard for their family livings or histories.
One woman, Madame Rose Bazelet, is determined to stand her ground and not leave the home in which she'd lived her entire married life, and in which her husband and his father before him had been born and died. She is meant to move in with her daughter's family, but after she has all of her belongings shipped and stored, she stays in the house. Aided by a rather inscrutable friend who provides heat and food, she waits, hidden in a corner of the basement as the demolition crews get closer. She passes the hours reminiscing about her past and writing letters to her deceased husband, Armand, telling him all that has happened in her life and the lives of their neighbours in the ten years he's been gone. Eventually she brings herself to confess the awful secret she's carried for years and never shared with anyone, not even her beloved Armand.
Everything about this book appealed to me: the period, the location, and especially the characters. I've always been interested in Paris, but I had no idea about this part of the city's history. I was simply mesmerized by the grand plans Napoleon not only made, but actually carried out, wiping out generations of history in the name of modernization. All the time I was reading I kept thinking it couldn't be real and wondering what kind of crazy person would do this. Well, apparently Napoleon is that crazy person. I felt heartsick right along with Madame Rose.
Almost from the outset the author makes you aware of how this is going to end, but there is one twist that will take you by surprise - a nice surprise. I loved the beginning, the ending and everything in between. I usually take more time to consider the things I like and don't like about the actual writing, but honestly I got so lost in this story that I didn't even notice. Not noticing the writing is almost always a good thing, so I'll leave it at that and just recommend that you Read. This. Book.