The House at Tyneford

Plume  2011

Set mainly in Tyneford, England, The House at Tyneford follows the path of Elise Landau as she leaves a life of luxury in Vienna in 1938, amidst stifling restrictions on Jewish residents, to become a maid in an English country home. On one level, Solomons’s examination of Elise’s Jewish identity, her new social status, her experiences adapting to English customs, and her blossoming romance with Kit Rivers, the son of the owner of Tyneford House, provides the foundation for a richly imagined commentary on the effects of the war on the Rivers family and those living on the Dorset coast. Yet, on another level, through a series of letters that Elise exchanges with her sister Margot, Solomons also draws attention to the Landaus’ experiences of war in other contexts, be it Elise’s parents, a novelist and an opera singer who struggle to get visas to leave Austria, and her sister and her sister’s husband who build a new life in the United States. As Solomons reveals in the Author’s Note, Tyneford was based on the actual English village of Tyneham, which was requisitioned by the military during World War II, and Elise’s story was inspired by the experiences of Solomons’s great aunt. Therefore, although her prose is beautifully descriptive and her depictions of English country life are infused with a certain nostalgic charm, Solomons does not shy away from addressing the deeply troubling effects of war on the fractured families and communities of which Elise is a part.

Discussion Questions

from the author's website

Elise points out how different Kit is from other boys she knows. What is your first impression of Kit? Are you drawn to him? How would you describe his relationship with his father, Mr. Rivers?

A confrontation with Diana inspires Elise to shock the partygoers during Kit’s birthday. What was your reaction to this moment? How did it affect Kit and Elise’s relationship? How did it change the way Mr. Rivers and the staff at Tyneford saw Elise?

What sacrifices does Mr. Rivers make to help Elise and her family? What did this tell you about Mr. Rivers? How would you describe his feelings toward Elise as the novel progresses?

Kit and Elise’s romance stirs up a great deal of emotion in and around Tyneford. What is your opinion of how Mr. Rivers receives the news of Kit’s love for Elise? What social and class challenges do you feel Kit and Elise faced?

What was your opinion of Kit’s decision regarding his involvement in the war? What do you feel motivated him in this decision? How did his relationships with Elise and his father affect his decision?

What happens to Kit? How does this affect Elise and Mr. Rivers? How does it affect the relationship between them?

The danger of war comes home when Elise spots a German fighter flying near Tyneford. What is significant about this event? What do you gather about Elise’s character from her reaction to this moment?

What does Elise discover about the novel Julian hid in the viola? What did you make of this turn of events? What impact does it have on Elise? What piece of work does the novel inspire and what significance does it have for Elise in the end?

What is your opinion of where Mr. Rivers and Elise’s relationship ends up? As you see it, what events led to Tyneford’s fate? What significance did Tyneford have to Elise, Kit, and Mr. Rivers? Can a place like Tyneford exist in today’s world?

Why do you think the novel in the viola blank?

The novel contains a concerto, and the viola contains a novel. What is the significance of music in the novel?

Twitter Book Club

Read a transcript from the April 26, 2012 Twitter Book Club with Natasha Solomons.

Book Trailer

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