“A magical debut about an enchanted house that offers refuge to women in their time of need.
Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.
She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.
Filled with a colorful and unforgettable cast of literary figures, The House at the End of Hope Street is a charming, whimsical novel of hope and feminine wisdom that is sure to appeal to fans of Jasper Fforde and especially Sarah Addison Allen.” – Publisher Summary
As The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag begins, Alba Ashby has just suffered a devastating personal and academic blow and is wandering aimlessly through the streets of Cambridge, England with nowhere to go. She finds herself at the end of Hope Street, looking up at a house she has never noticed before. She is oddly compelled to knock on the door, and does so. Her knock is answered by Peggy Abbot, the elderly and motherly owner of this fascinating home, who immediately welcomes Alba inside and leads her into the kitchen for some hot cocoa. As she follows Peggy, Alba notices that the walls are covered with photos of women, many of them famous figures.
As Alba sips her hot cocoa, Peggy makes her an offer: Alba can stay in the House on Hope Street for 99 days – no more, no less – while she puts her life back together. She tells her about the history of her home, that it is a place where women are able to come to heal and learn to move forward with their lives. She offers her assistance, and tells Alba that she will also receive assistance from the house itself as well as from the women in the photographs on the wall – which includes such figures in history as Vivien Leigh, Agatha Christie, Emily Davies, and Florence Nightingale. Intrigued and exhausted, Alba accepts Peggy’s offer and moves in that night. She quickly learns that there truly is something very special about this house. The walls seem to breathe. She hears whispers from the pictures on the walls. When she wakes in the morning, her walls – bare the night before – are covered with shelves of books,some of them hovering in the air, and all of them her favorite tomes.
Alba is not the only resident in the house on Hope Street. Two other women currently reside there, as well – Carmen and Greer. Carmen is running from a violent past, and Greer from a broken heart. The house on Hope Street, Peggy, the women in the photographs, and even the women living there themselves all work together to help Alba, Carmen, and Greer heal from their wounds and slowly pick up the shattered pieces of their lives as they had known them.
I have to say that this is not the type of novel you would normally find me reading. Fantasy and magical realism are not generally my thing. But The House at the End of Hope Street was truly a charming, whimsical story that flows easily and carries the reader along on its adventures. I appreciated the general theme of female empowerment and watching the women gain strength and confidence. The symbolism here was interesting as well – the house is at the end of Hope Street, and the women who come to stay there are almost out of hope themselves. The book does touch lightly on some other themes: sexuality, domestic violence, infertility, and faithfulness.
The House at the End of Hope Street is a sweet little novel that is an easy read. It was slightly difficult for me to completely immerse myself within it because, as previously mentioned, this kind of fantastical writing is not usually something I fully enjoy. If you strongly dislike fantasy and magical realism, I would suggest you stay away from this novel, however, if you are able to open your mind to it, this is a great book to break into the genre with.
3 Stars, sweethearts
Source: Review copy provided by Penguin Group/Viking (via NetGalley)