There are books where the beginning hints at the ending. The House I Loved is one such book but knowing how this one will end is what makes it so special. It builds very slowly and before you know it, you’ve been picked up and carried to the end.
A Parisian widow in mourning for many years, Rose Bazelet still maintains a rather full life on the rue Childebert in the house left to her by her husband. She has her friends and her routines but when the Emperor, Napoleon III, decides to bring Paris into the modern age by destroying what’s considering quaint by her neighborhood’s standards and replacing it with modern and better functioning buildings and facilities, her world comes crashing down. Rose does not want her Paris, the one where memories of her deceased husband and son reside, to be torn down and rebuilt. She takes a stand and makes the decision to fight for her home, her life, and her street. Rose tells everyone she knows that she will not be leaving her family home and nothing, not money or destruction, will make her leave the house she feels she must protect at all costs for the husband she dearly misses.
Hiding in the basement of her home, with frequent visits from Gilbert, a homeless man who has taken to protecting and helping Rose, she writes to her husband. In long letters, and short, she tells him about her fight and how the man at the office treated her as if her home and life meant nothing — and indeed it meant nothing to him all. She reveals long held secrets to him, secrets she has never told another living person. Rose writes about her neighbors that have brought her joy over the years and have kept her company after his death. As the day of destruction nears, her letters become more heart wrenching, sad, and poignant.
I’m the type of person that will read the last page of a book before I start. I love spoilers just that much. The House I Loved was the first book in a very long time where that didn’t happen. I had a feeling I knew how this one was going to end and I don’t say this as a way to ruin this book for anyone. The beauty is really in the letters and memories Rose is telling and reliving for her husband. Some of the memories were lovely — for instance, when she begins her love of reading and how she tells her husband that she now finally understands how he could sit for hours absorbed in a book. A reader would love that! Others are awful, sad memories that only impending change would cause her to reveal.
I don’t want you to think this book is only sad, it is in a way, but it’s also very heartwarming and the picture that de Rosnay paints of this little street in Paris in the 1860s is very vibrant. The parks, the buildings, and the people are alive in Rose’s letters. And while Rose’s world is very small, it feels much grander thanks to the words she writes to her beloved husband. Her description of a neighbor and friend, Alexandrine, a local florist, is wonderful and you can see how close the women are and how much they admire, and need, one another. It’s in these letters about Alexandrine that you catch glimpses of Rose’s relationship with the daughter she never felt close to and you see why she feels so loving toward Alexandrine.
At first I thought of Rose as a stubborn old woman but soon found myself admiring the character for her strength and convictions. To her, the house was more than just simple bricks and mortar. It was her life and the memories that kept her going. She refused to part with it for reasons that only she understood but also out of love for a husband she wanted desperately to feel close to after his death. It’s a love story on more than one level.
The House I Loved
Tatiana de Rosnay
St. Martin’s Press