The London House by Katherine Reay — Book Review
From the desk of Syrie James
I love historical fiction, women’s fiction, and novels with multiple timelines. It’s a challenging structure for an author, however, since it requires the creation of two or more protagonists who live in different eras, and separate stories that are not only equally weighted, well-structured, and compelling, but must be woven together in a meaningful and impactful way. Katherine Reay tackles all that and more in her new novel The London House.
In present day Boston, Caroline Waite, a law school dropout who’s still grieving for the sister she lost in childhood, gets unexpected news about a wealthy English aunt for whom she was named. It turns out Aunt Caro didn’t die in childhood, as Caroline had been told; she was apparently a traitor who disappeared with a Nazi lover in WWII. This blemish on the Waite family name has haunted Caroline’s father and his entire side of the family ever since.
Determined to get to the bottom of the story, Caroline flies to England and stays at the family’s lovely, ancestral London townhouse, which has trunks in the attic full of letters and diaries left by Aunt Caro and her twin sister, Margo. With the help of an old friend, Mat, who’s writing an article on the subject, Caroline delves into the family history, peeling back one layer at a time, revealing the complex relationship between Caro and her twin, the secrets they both kept from each other, and the impact of those secrets on their lives.
As Caroline researches the past, she deals with issues of her own in the present: a law degree she abandoned to help her aging feather, guilt over the death of her sister, her disconnect with her parents and brother, regret over the way her relationship with Mat ended in college, and her burgeoning feelings for him today.
The story in the present is seamlessly interwoven with the past through diary entries, letters, and a few official documents. Caro and Margo’s childhood years in the English countryside set the stage for the drama that follows as we’re taken to London, Paris, and the Nazi occupation of France. The book is jam-packed with intriguing, well-researched bits about WWII and the pre-war years, my favorite part being the descriptions of Caro’s tenure at Maison Schiaparelli, an haute couture fashion design studio in Paris. (I had to stop and immediately Google The Lobster Dress.)
I only had two minor quibbles with the novel. The story was hard to follow at first because so many characters and facts were thrown at the reader right off the bat. Once Caroline got to London, though, it was smooth sailing and very engaging. I think the Waite family should have made peace with their grief and anger over Aunt Caro’s defection by now and moved on—it all happened so long ago. However, these things didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this fascinating story.
Expertly researched and perfectly paced, The London House is a remarkable novel about love, loss, sacrifice, the healing aspects of truth, and the way history—and secrets—can impact a family and ultimately change its future. With its beautifully drawn characters, compelling present-day story, exciting twists and turns, and evocative diaries and letters from the past, Katherine Reay paints a vivid picture that pulled me in with every page, desperate to know what would happen next. I loved it!
- Title: The London House: A Novel
- Author: Katherine Reay
- Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
- Publisher: Harper Muse (November 2, 2021)
- Length: (368) pages
- Format: Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook
Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of several novels, including Dear Mr. Knightley and The Printed Letter Bookshop, and one full length non-fiction work. Her first historical fiction novel, The London House, releases 11/02/2021. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. She lives outside Chicago, IL.
You can meet her at www.katherinereay.com or on Facebook: KatherineReayBooks, Twitter: @katherine_reay or Instagram: @katherinereay.
PURCHASE LINKS available at Katherine’s website: https://katherinereay.com/books/the-london-house/
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