Craft · KN Reads

KN Reads: The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van PraagOn Goodreads (rating 3.81).

There is a house that calls to women who have lost all hope in their lives and gives them the space and the time (99 days) to rediscover themselves. This house is in Cambridge, and is currently home to three troubled women and their landlady. The House at the End of Hope Street gives little away on its blurb, but the magic held within is worth a read.

I mean that literally, by the way. The magic realism is the most appealing thing about the book beside the cast of bizarre characters. The house gives its occupants handy quotes and life advice, and sometimes sewing machines. It does its best to guide the women to what they need rather than what they want, all under the watchful gazes of hundreds of women who have stayed there over the years who speak to them right from their frames like something out of Harry Potter. What I wouldn’t give to have a little chat with Agatha Christie.

The story starts when Alba turns up after the worst day of her life. As the youngest PhD student ever, she has had a lot of pressure, and now she discovers she made a huge mistake that has taken away her dreams. She moves into the house and starts a reluctant search for a new path built on dignity and honesty instead of the lie she had been living before.

Alba is a great character. She develops across the course of the novel away from the wet blanket she is at the beginning, and her growth is worth the time. Her housemates, a singer and a failed actress, are interesting in their own rights but it was Alba that drew me in.

The reason I justify so much that this book is worth the time and energy to read it is that the writing quality is not great. It’s not unreadable, but the sentences can be stilted, and it’s in need of a good editor. The ending didn’t thrill me (there are at least two giant plot holes, one of which destroys the integrity of an entire long-running side plot) but it was not unsatisfying. There are a few twists and turns that I predicted, but many that I did not.

The House at the End of Hope Street is not a perfect book. It is flawed, just like the inhabitants of the magical house. Yet I’m glad I read it; it’s a light read, easy to swallow in a couple of sittings, and I loved Alba enough to make her a good enough reason to enjoy it.

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