Book Review: ‘The House at the End of Hope Street’ by Menna van Praag

For months I have searched for the perfect romance book. But, I am fussy – the cover doesn’t appeal, it’s too clichéd, or the characters seem boring.  I bought this book as I love fantasy novels but almost as if the house in the novel knew what I was searching for, and it fell into my lap and submerged me in a great literate love story.

Alba, our protagonist is able to see the auras of others – silver for hope, violet for joy, the entire spectrum of emotions that sets her further apart from those around her, even more than being a PhD student that is under twenty which reads at the speed of light. Alba Ashby is broken when the House at the End of Hope Street summons her into the property. The house has been a refuge for those who have needed it for two hundred years, where they are able to stay for ninety-nine nights to sort out their lives. The house is alive and its most remarkable feature is the hundreds of framed photographs which line its interior.  Previous occupants, their souls entrapped within photographs, talking as if they were still alive. History encapsulated within ink, able to guide the next woman that steps in.  Christie and du Maurier and Pankhurst and all the rest which shape the lives of women through their actions and writing stayed at the house at some point or another.

This is something truly wonderful as you may find yourself reading this book in a difficult time, or you may feel a little down and just imagining yourself in that situation, sitting in a cozy kitchen dunking some biscuits into tea while being lectured at by your favourite author. It portrays such a lovely image of the house, almost sagging underneath the history of the photographs.

The characters are distinct and real with realistic problems which weaves nicely with the magic of the house; and they, along with its caretaker Peggy nudge its residents in fixing their lives and for Alba this meant stepping out of her room and believing in the power of courage. I will tell you now, that this book contains a happy ending, and I must warn you now, spoiler right ahead…that the ship of Alba and Zoe is cannon, to use the words of my generation.

But if there is one thing that made me snap the book shut and exclaim in disbelief is that I was again fooled by the patriarchal imprint left on my mind of both sexism and compulsory heterosexuality. Many years ago now, I was told a riddle. Here it goes:

A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad.  The son is rushed to hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate – that boy is my son”

Who is the surgeon?

I was at a lossas the boy’s father has just been killed, so you start thinking well, perhaps he has two fathers.  In a study, an average of 14.5% answered correctly – the surgeon is his mother. And its just so shocking as it was later told by the same individual that when I were very young, I did not want to be a nurse, I wanted to be a doctor.

Now a little older, and a feminist, who loves Grey’s Anatomy and all it’s female lead characters which are doctors and head of departments, who reads about women’s history, was again fooled by gender schemas (stereotypes) carved into our minds though this patriarchal society. The whole time I thought that Dr Skinner was a man, a history professor that had broken our dear Alba’s heart. And the confusion that fell upon me when Alba said “Because I was in love with her.” I was lost.  Had no idea who this individual was, we had not been introduced to any girlfriend or anyone.  Reading onwards we learn that ‘she’ is Dr Alexandra Skinner. I had assumed through the heteronormative society that Alba was straight and so both factors led to me have a serious Captain Holt from Brooklyn nine-nine moment where I exclaimed three consecutive ‘OH DAMN!’s (s5.e14).

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