Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru, I just started watching the PBS series Downton Abbey and am fascinated by the rigid rules that governed life on an English manor, by the legions of servants needed to maintain these ancient homes, and by the changes that time brought. Can you recommend a book that would replicate this viewing experience? Fascinated by All Things British

Dear Fascinated, Many people are discovering Downton Abbey; Season One is available at the Sea Cliff Library albeit with a long list of eager borrowers. However, I just finished a book I think you will enjoy very much: HOUSE OF TYNEFORD by Natasha Solomons. My friend Jen Scheffel who is a voracious reader had recommended it to me and I think she and I would agree that while this is not fine literature, it is a very moving tribute to a time and lifestyle long gone. Set in a beautiful village on the Dorset coast, the novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a nineteen year-old Viennese girl who with her opera singer mother and novelist father enjoys a charmed existence. They have a beautiful home filled with antiques, fine wines, and devoted servants. All of this changes with the rise of the Nazis; the family is forced to flee Vienna- some to New York, some to San Francisco, but Elise alone must go to England: as a housemaid until a more suitable arrangement can be made. The novel details the difficulties encountered in this brutal reversal of fortune. The manor house she arrives at in 1939 shares some of Downton Abbey's majesty, but by the end of the book, Tyneford and Elise's world have both been changed beyond belief.

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