House of Trelawney
By Hannah Rothschild
What it’s about?
For more than 700 years, the vast, rambling Trelawney Castle in Cornwall–turrets, follies, a room for every day of the year, four miles of corridors and 500,000 acres–was the magnificent and grand “three dimensional calling card” of the Earls of Trelawney.
By 2008, it is in a complete state of ruin due to the dulled ambition and the financial ineptitude of the twenty-four earls, two world wars, the Wall Street crash, and inheritance taxes.
Still: the heir to all of it, Kitto, his wife Jane, their three children, their dog, Kitto’s ancient parents, and his aunt Tuffy Scott, an entomologist who studies fleas, all manage to live there and keep it going.
Three women dominate the story: Jane; Kitto’s sister, the spinster, Blaze, who left Trelawney and made a killing in finance in London, and the wildly beautiful, seductive, and long-ago banished Anastasia whose 19 year old daughter, Ayesha– a complete replica of her mother–arrives unannounced at Trelawney.
When Ayesha marries very well and buys the house to avenge her mother’s memory, she makes Blaze’s plan to save Trelawney completely unnecessary. But both Blaze and Jane are about to discover that the house itself is really only a very small part of what keeps the family together.
What I think:
This is such a funny book. It’s also incredibly moving.
The Trelawneys are an aristocratic but eccentric family. They live in a castle, are friends with royalty and the Trelawney name opens doors. They are also completely broke. The castle is falling apart and every year less of the building is habitable. The land has been sold off, the treasures have been auctioned and the Earl and Countess keep up the pretense of dressing for dinner despite the fact they are eating budget cottage pie.
The book sfocuses around three women who are all broken but strong, hopeless but resilient, and very different from each other.
Jane is married to Trelawney heir, Kitto. She is desperately trying to keep a roof over everyone’s heads – literally and metaphorical. the day to day survival of the castle and family is all on her shoulders. She is literally cooking, cleaning and emptying saucepans every time it rains and the roof leaks. She finds solace in her artistic endeavors, designing and hand-printing wallpaper where the animal print designed look suspiciously like her family members.
Blaze is the Earl’s daughter, Rich and successful, she has made a name for herself in the cut throat world of finance. She is however, desperately lonely and has struggled to find love and meaningful relationships.
And then there is Ayesha. A beautiful young woman, daughter of Jane and Blaze’s childhood friend, She finds herself back in London, living with Blaze. He aim is to marry well – and for money – as soon as possible and put her mother’s revenge plan in plan.
All three women are irrevocably tied to Trelawney and their fates and the fate of the estate is entwined.
Set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, the book explores the impacts that the crash has on various families in a devastatingly humorous and yet heartbreaking way. Trust in institutions and reputations is destroyed, younger generations and technology are taking over and those who fail to adapt will not survive.
The characters in this book are brilliant. They are vivid and distinct. I particularly enjoyed Tony and his conversations with Ayesha and Blaze, The Dowager Countess is hilarious and I would probably watch her reality show. There are genuinely heartwarming moments and the humour runs throughout the whole book.
Rothschild is a master of satire and it is not just wealth: the rich, the aristocratic, the working class, women and men, the young and old, arrogance, pride nobody escapes and their follies and foibles are exposed.
The ending is completely satisfying but I would love to know what happens to this wonderfully fascinating family in the future.
This was the longest of the books lingering on my Netgalley shelves and I can not believe I had not read it sooner. One of my favourite reads of the year.
Thank you Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the gifted copy of House of Trelawney.