The House at Tyneford - a book review


2/8/20242 min read

‘You’ve changed everything, don’t you see? You are neither one nor the other. This is the end of Tyneford, I promise you. And it’s not your fault, but you brought it with you’

The above is the newer title – I read a second-hand copy (which my mum spotted for me!), which goes by the original title The Novel in the Viola.

Elise Landau is the petted youngest child in a feted, artistic Jewish family in Vienna, more Austrian than Jewish. But it’s the 1930s, and Nazism is gaining strength. Her family insist she escape to England on a domestic servant visa, and she is offered a job, on a fortuitous whim, by the owner of Tyneford, who was attracted by her name, that of a favourite author (unbeknownst to him, this is Elise’s father). So, like many Viennese of this time, Elise goes from ‘above stairs’ Vienna to ‘below stairs’ England, and from a bustling modern city to an isolated rural village. Belonging nowhere, can she find a home?

This lyrical novel follows Elise’s development from spoiled child to adult and the process of finding belonging. Like the sea she grows to love, her life ebbs and flows, and sometimes crashes, through loves and the swiftly changing circumstances of a country at war. Elise becomes a symbol of the final fracturing of the English social structure, begun in World War I. Tyneford, of course, is a fictionalised version of Tyneham, Dorset’s famous ghost village evacuated by the army in World War II (I don’t think that’s a spoiler).

Not everyone will like the ending, though it’s pretty clearly foreshadowed throughout the novel. Without giving anything away, I have to say I did find it satisfying, and felt it was appropriate to the heroine’s growth and the theme of second chances. If you enjoy World War II sagas and love Dorset, it's worth a read!