REVIEW: House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild

In brief: Trelawney Castle and its inhabitants have been an institution in Cornwall for centuries. But now the castle is falling down and the family has run out of money. How will they react?

The good: Very detailed with unique characters.

The not-so-good: Sometimes a little too much detail and not enough action.

Why I chose it: Sounded like something I would like. Thank you to Bloomsbury for the copy.

Year: 2020

Pages: 358

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Setting: Cornwall and London, England

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I love a good novel about class, old families and massive houses. House of Trelawney takes all those things and puts them in a modern setting to show where the cracks are. This isn’t Downton Abbey; this is what the Abbey might look like after years of lavish expenditure coupled with a modern world and little income. There are quirky characters, some sensational back stabbings and a global financial crisis. (Reading this in the midst of another one was a little…unsettling).

Kitto and Jane are the current Trelawneys in the house and Kitto is not good with his money. He married Jane for her money but that ran out long ago. He’s now the chairman of a small local bank, flitting about London while Jane has to wait on his parents (keeping up the pretence that they still have oodles of servants), deal with the lack of hot water and heating and raise the children. It’s pure drudgery. Meanwhile, Kitto’s sister Blaze is a trader in London convinced the market is about to take a sharp downturn, but she’s mocked for her beliefs. She holds a grudge against her family for kicking her out of the family house and has had little contact with them for years. Then three things of significance happen. An old friend of Jane and Blaze, Anastasia, contacts them to say she is dying and wants them to look after her daughter. Kitto and Blaze’s father dies. The market also crashes spectacularly, taking the last of Kitto’s money. This turns everything upside down for the Trelawneys and they react in varying ways. Kitto goes off the rails, Blaze decides to start again and Jane continues to plod along to save the house and her family.

House of Trelawney is a very detailed novel. It takes its time in setting up the characters, their history (which goes back a very long time) and their current situation. Even the more minor characters, such as Tuffy and Tony, have a relatively detailed background of their own exodus from the family and where they are now. At times this is fascinating, other times I found it a little too slow and I just wanted some plot or movement. The characters are brilliantly painted, with the majority being quite likable (except for the obvious bad guy Sleet and Kitto, who faintly dances around the edge of the novel doing either nothing or something annoying). It’s the women who attempt to get things done in their own ways – Jane plods, Blaze plans, Clarissa clings to the old ways and milks them for her benefit, Tuffy collects fleas and Ayesha seeks revenge. The men are generally the supported ones, looking for guidance. Overall, it’s very eccentric and dysfunctional with the added burden of a huge house that is falling apart.

The setting against the backdrop of the GFC was interesting and gave the story an added edge as you could see Kitto’s train wreck coming and Blaze’s intuition proved right. (Nerd that I am, I enjoyed the insight into trading, funds and investment banking). But for most of the characters, it didn’t really change things much and they continued along the same path. Despite this, I found the novel enjoyable once I eliminated other distractions (like leaving the house) and focused on it. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will remind you that the world has been kicked down before and got up again.

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