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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Review: The novel, The House of Trelawney

This book had so much promise: great cover, famous author name, the word “house” in the title, and a jacket blurb to bait American anglophiles. I myself have been looking high and low for a meaty novel about an eccentric family, crumbling old estate, and perhaps a nice Austenesque love story for a plot. Unfortunately, this superficial novel did not satisfy.

To be sure, it starts out with a promising shabby chic bang. An omniscient narrator telling us, for about six pages of impressive rambling prose, about the ancient Cornish Trelawney Castle and its deterioration. Then you get to what you think is going to be the protagonist, countess “Jane,” the mother of three, in her stereotyped come-down-in-life look and attitude. I am myself am a downtrodden housewife so I sort of could relate to plain Jane but then she is quickly hijacked as the main character by her successful financial analyst/investor sister-in-law.

There is an inept earl “Kitto” who has let the castle fail. These are the first of MANY characters you are supposed to keep track of, all of them simplistic stereotypes of English manor folk and their eccentricies and “dysfunction.” The plot becomes a soap opera, kind of like what Downton Abbey turned into fairly quickly. I am not a Julian Fellowes expert but I think this story riffs on his style.

One of the most irritating parts of the novel is the names of the characters. From “Pooter” the dog, to the sister-in-law “Blaze” who is being tormented by a crude American hedge fund guy named “Sleet” and romantically pursued by a quiet and reserved English man “Joshua Wolfe” who she loves but they clumsily mess up their relationship in unbelievable ways.

I have a feeling the author, a daughter of a baron, and a very successful creative person in her own right, was under pressure to fulfill a contract deadline. The novel is wandering, full of well-worn stereotypes, and has about ten different protagonists. It also lacked a good developmental editor who should have challenged Rothschild, early on in her process, to tighten up this plot full of random rabbit holes and inconsistencies in her prose. Finally, in parts of the book, she does not follow the fiction writing rule: show don’t tell.

Rothschild has written two earlier books that look much more promising, especially, the first one, a biography of her great aunt, Pannonica Rothschild. Despite the criticism that I have just thrown at her (like it matters) I still have intentions of reading her earlier books and viewing her documentaries—they appear more promising then House of Trelawney.

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