Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review: The Song of Hartgrove Hall

Summary: A captivating novel that evokes the author’s New York Times bestseller The House at Tyneford

Natasha Solomons’s breathtaking new novel has it all: a love triangle, family obligations, and rediscovering joy in the face of grief, all set against the alluring backdrop of an English country estate perfect for fans of Downton Abbey

It’s a terrible thing to covet your brother’s girl

New Year’s Eve, Dorset, England, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from World War II determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful Jewish wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson – a music prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness? -- Plume

I remember hearing a lot of positive things about THE HOUSE OF TYNEFORD by Natasha Solomons. I never got around to reading that one at the time of the release, but I thought I'd start with her latest novel THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL. I received a copy of this novel at last year's BEA, and I remember the comparisons to Downton Abbey. It seemed like a good book to hunker down with during a winter storm. And it was...

THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL is a beautiful book that certainly has a lot going on. It's a love story about Harry Fox-Talbot (Fox) and Edie Rose, it's a story about family obligations, and it's a story about grief. However, it's also a story about second chances and rediscovering joy! The novel goes back and forth between post World War II and the present (or really 50 years later), and I thought the author did a wonderful job with both time periods.

In 1946, Fox returns home to Hartgrove Hall from boarding school while his two brothers are coming home from World War II. Their father is considering having their country estate demolished because it's in ruins and too expensive to maintain; however, the three sons decide to do whatever it takes to save their family home... even if that means Fox has to give up his desire to play music. Their father, the General, gives them one year to turn things around.

When his charismatic brother Jack brings home Edie Rose, a successful wartime singer, Fox falls madly in love with her despite her marriage to his brother. Fox senses that Edie has feelings for him too, and he flees to London to pursue a career in music. He ends up studying under Marcus Albright, a world famous composer; and he also tries to forget about Edie which is easier said than done when they run into each other!

The novel also shows Fox in the year 2000 when he's grieving the loss of his wife Edie and living at the restored Hartgrove Hall. (So it appears that things worked out pretty well for Fox except for the relationship with his brother Jack.) He has two daughters and a few grandchildren, but he's not exactly a touchy feely guy. It's apparent that he has found much success as a composer, but he's more than a bit lost without Edie... that is, until he discovers that his five year old grandson Robin is a piano prodigy. Fox takes Robin under his tutelage; and suddenly, Fox has something to live for!

I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL. I loved the characters, especially Fox; and I quickly became caught up in his story. It's true that a big part of this novel was a love story between Fox and Edie; however, it was so much more than that. The characters were rich and well drawn, and I thought the author did a great job of making life on an English country estate real both in the present and especially the past.

One aspect that I really appreciated was getting an inside look into the world of classical music. It's pretty safe to say that I know nothing about concerts, composers, conductors, etc.; and I enjoyed "learning" about this world through Fox's story. It was interesting to see the competition between the famous composers/conductors, and it was even more interesting to see how the author created the complex relationships/friendships between them.

Another part of this novel that I liked was the present day story of Fox and his grandson Robin. At times, Robin was a little difficult to take like most five year olds, but I loved how he brought Fox to life. Fox wasn't exactly close to his girls without Edie to facilitate the relationships, and it was special to see how far he came as a result of Robin giving him new life!

I think THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL would make a great book club selection. I wasn't able to find a link to discussion questions, but I don't think a formal guide is necessary. Some of the themes you might want to explore include sibling relationships, love triangles, child prodigies, second chances, forgiveness, obligations, guilt, and grief. As you can see, there is a great deal to discuss; and I think most readers will find Fox to be pretty interesting.

Overall, I really liked THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL. Highly recommended to fans of Downton Abbey and readers who enjoy historical fiction set around World War II.

I received a copy of this novel at the 2015 BEA.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I don't read a lot of historical fiction but do like that time period so this might work for me.