The House I Loved by Tatiana De Rosnay
The House I Loved is a beautiful story of a beautiful bygone era. An era that heralded major changes in Paris, by a Parisian who resisted that change for the love of her house. An old lady writes a letter to her deceased husband. When she knows that she is standing next to her death. And this letter is this whole book. She wants to tell everything to him. The secrets she could not share when he was alive. And small little things that she remembers from her journey through life. In the process, she takes us through the city of Paris, as it was before Napoleon decided to do away with old Paris to lay down a new more structured Paris in late 19th century.
The story has many layers. It is a story of a woman who was born and lived all her life in a small neighborhood in Paris. She gets married into an affluent family. And has a keen sense of fashion. Her life revolves around her husband, her family, and the neighborhood. At one level it is a subtle love story of the protagonist and her husband. Giving nuanced details of their coming together. And staying together through thick and thin. It is the story of her love for her mother-in-law who she was closer to than her own mother. Her daughter who she could never be friends with, a lost son and a well-kept secret.
She wants to share her life after her husband passed away with him. Telling him how she learned to deal with life without him. People who helped her fill her day and give her life a meaning. She wants to describe the changes happening in their neighborhood. Share the agony of getting a letter from the authorities to vacate the house. And the ordeal she went through to appeal for not bringing down that house. There is a secret that she wants to tell him, a secret that she has not shared with anyone including her husband. And as it happens when we are so close to death we are not scared of anything. It somehow gives us all the strength that we wish was there throughout our lives.
At another level, it is the story of a citizen who refuses to let go of her house to make way for the new Paris. And puts up a fight till the very end. While most Parisians with time accept the change that their city needs to go through. And move to new locations. Rose the protagonist decided to stay back in the house and die as it is torn down. I particularly liked the scene when she visits the office to say that she wants the authorities to change their plan so that her house is not touched. And the officer – a young man laughs at her. At that moment she decides that she will not let them win. And will stay in the house and die with it. Sometimes a small gesture can have a huge impact on people and we may never know that.
The story moves between recent past and distant past, sometimes describing characters from the past and sometimes from the recent past. Language is in tune with the times it describes. The flow of the story keeps some curiosity factor and some aspects are slowly revealed and the reader’s interest is kept intact all the time. There is an evocative description of Paris in 19th CE with its cobbled streets, narrow lanes with exquisite French names, the fountains, the small shops, cafes, restaurants, and hotels. You suddenly feel that you have to visit this place as and when you are in Paris.
The House I Loved is a quick read for those who like romance and the city of Romance.