House of Trelawney – Hannah Rothschild
For more than seven hundred years, the vast, rambling Trelawney Castle in Cornwall–turrets, follies, a room for every day of the year, four miles of corridors and 500,000 acres–was the magnificent and grand “three dimensional calling card” of the earls of Trelawney. By 2008, it is in a complete state of ruin due to the dulled ambition and the financial ineptitude of the twenty-four earls, two world wars, the Wall Street crash, and inheritance taxes. Still: the heir to all of it, Kitto, his wife, Jane, their three children, their dog, Kitto’s ancient parents, and his aunt Tuffy Scott, an entomologist who studies fleas, all manage to live there and keep it going. Four women dominate the story: Jane; Kitto’s sister, Blaze, who left Trelawney and made a killing in finance in London, the wildly beautiful, seductive, and long-ago banished Anastasia and her daughter, Ayesha. When Anastasia sends a letter announcing that her nineteen-year-old daughter, Ayesha, will be coming to stay, the long-estranged Blaze and Jane must band together to take charge of their new visitor–and save the house of Trelawney. But both Blaze and Jane are about to discover that the house itself is really only a very small part of what keeps the family together.
Fellow Downton Abbey fans, have you ever wondered how the Crawley family would live in modern times? (If you aren’t familiar with Downton Abbey – it is about an aristocratic family in England in the early 20th century) Times have certainly changed between the early 20th century and the early 21st century, and House of Trelawney chronicles how these changes have impacted an aristocratic family in Cotswolds. While it is not in any way related to Downton Abbey, there are some parallels between the Scott family in House of Trelawney and the Crawley family in Downton Abbey. Primarily, they are both wealthy, aristocratic families that are firmly rooted in tradition.
An Earl of Trelawney has lived in the fictional Trelawney castle in Cornwall for more than seven hundred years. The castle formerly employed hundreds of people in the area, and the family hosted lavish parties which drew visitors from around the country. It was a noble, respectable family. However, the family has not faired well in recent decades, and money is running out. The castle is crumbling to pieces, and the family can no longer afford crucial repairs, oil, or heating, and they get by on measly rations of food. Nature is, quite literally, taking over the house.
Similar to Downton Abbey, House of Trelawney is quite slow to start. However, once I got into it, I was fascinated. And yet, by the last third of the book my attention started to fade – another similarity to Downton Abbey! This book is less than four hundred pages, but it feels so much longer because of the scope that is covered. Having read Hannah Rothschild’s previous book The Improbability of Love, I am keenly aware of her ability to build an expansive fictional world within a few hundred pages. She can not be accused of neglecting to provide any details. If you are not a fan of slow-moving, richly detailed stories, then House of Trelawney is likely not the book for you.
While I am in awe of Rothschild’s story building skills, I grew tired of the narrative in House of Trelawney because I could not stand any of the characters. Each and every character, and trust me there are a lot of characters in this book, is deeply flawed. The author was clearly trying to make a point with these flawed characters, so I did not mind the fact they were flawed per se; instead, the issue for me was they were not at all realistic. They were the definition of caricatures. I think this book could have been much more powerful if there were fewer characters, and if the ones included actually felt a bit more like real human beings, instead of being walking, talking stereotypes.
Another issue I had with this book is the number of logical errors. House of Trelawney is set between 2008 and 2010, during the economic crash and recession. One of the characters works as an investment banker in London, and some chapters go into the financial situation during this time period quite extensively. Some of these scenes did not work for me at all, partially due to the fact that the language used did not sound realistic. I know a bit about finance and I was baffled by some of the language, so I can imagine that some readers could find this really off-putting. Another issued I had was that there were several instances where characters discussed Apple as though it were a small start-up that no one had ever heard of. At this point in history Apple had already launched two iPhone models, and was well-known for the iPod and laptops/computers. Speaking about Apple as though it was an un-heard of technology start-up in this time period makes no logical sense. This really irritated me.
Despite these issues, House of Trelawney is not at all a bad book. I feel that I should emphasise that Rothschild is a brilliant writer, and House of Trelawney is impressive from that point of view. I wanted to give this book a four star rating, but I felt that I couldn’t because of the issues with the characters and inconsistencies. Based on The Improbability of Love, I know that Rothschild can do better.
That being said, I think you will like this book if:
Have you read this book, or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!
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