The House I Loved
Tatiana de Rosnay, 2012
St. Martin's Press
Paris, France: 1860’s. Hundreds of houses are being razed, whole neighborhoods reduced to ashes. By order of Emperor Napoleon III, Baron Haussman has set into motion a series of large-scale renovations that will permanently alter the face of old Paris, moulding it into a “modern city.” The reforms will erase generations of history—but in the midst of the tumult, one woman will take a stand.
Rose Bazelet is determined to fight against the destruction of her family home until the very end; as others flee, she stakes her claim in the basement of the old house on rue Childebert, ignoring the sounds of change that come closer and closer each day. Attempting to overcome the loneliness of her daily life, she begins to write letters to Armand, her beloved late husband. And as she delves into the ritual of remembering, Rose is forced to come to terms with a secret that has been buried deep in her heart for thirty years.
The House I Loved is both a poignant story of one woman’s indelible strength, and an ode to Paris, where houses harbor the joys and sorrows of their inhabitants, and secrets endure in the very walls. (From the publisher.)
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• Birth—September 28, 1961
• Where—Suburbs of Paris, France
• Education—B.A., University of East Anglia (UK)
• Currently—lives in Paris, France
Tatiana de Rosnay, born in the suburbs of Paris, is of English, French and Russian descent. Her father is French scientist Joël de Rosnay, her grandfather was painter Gaëtan de Rosnay. Tatiana's paternal great-grandmother was Russian actress Natalia Rachewskïa, director of the Leningrad Pushkin Theatre from 1925 to 1949.
Tatiana's mother is English, Stella Jebb, daughter of diplomat Gladwyn Jebb, and great-great-granddaughter of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the British engineer. Tatiana is also the niece of historian Hugh Thomas.
Tatiana was raised in Paris and then in Boston, when her father taught at MIT in the 70's. She moved to England in the early 1980s and obtained a Bachelor's degree in English literature at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. On her return to Paris in 1984, she was a press officer, then became a journalist and literary critic for Psychologies Magazine.
Since 1992, de Rosnay has published twelve novels in French and three in English. She has also worked on the series Family Affairs for which she has written two episodes with the screenwriter Pierre-Yves Lebert. The series was broadcasted on TF1 during the summer of 2000.
In 2006 de Rosnay published her most popular novel, Sarah's Key, selling over three million copies in French and almost two million in English. In 2009 the book was adapted into French cinema, under the same title by Serge Joncour, with Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia; the movie was converted to English in late 2011. She published A Secret Kept in 2009, Rose in 2011, and The House I Loved in 2012.
In January 2010, several French magazines issued a ranking of the top French novelists, placing de Rosnay at number eight. In January 2011, Le Figaro magazine published a ranking of the top ten most read French authors, positioning de Rosnay at fifth. (From Wikipedia.)
In her quietly elegant 11th novel, the bestselling author of Sarah’s Key again explores the idea of home as both sanctuary and embodiment of history… [Rose’s] letters, poetic and honest, reveal a world soon to be destroyed by progress. A mesmerizing look at how the homes and neighborhoods we occupy hold not only our memories but our secrets as well.
Parisian Rose Bazelet is a woman in mourning, for her husband and son, both long dead; for her distant daughter; and because of Napoleon III’s ambitious urban planning agenda in the mid-19th century, an enormous project that could destroy her beloved family estate. With the planners already leveling nearby houses, Rose hides in her cellar and writes letters to her deceased husband about her struggle to save their home. As the letters continue, and destruction grows near, Rose remembers her married life. With the planners “rattling about at the entrance” and taking her friend Alexandrine, who has come to rescue her, by surprise, Rose reveals to her late husband the dark secret she could never bring herself to tell him when he was alive. Though bestseller de Rosnay’s epistolary narrative is slow to build, it’s fraught with drama, as the Sarah’s Key author aims to create an immersive experience in a hugely transformative period in Paris (see Paul La Farge’s Haussmann, or the Distinction), when the city was torn between modernity and tradition. In Rose, one gets the clear sense of a woman losing her place in a changing world, but this isn’t enough to make up for a weak narrative hung entirely on the eventual reveal of a long-buried secret.
A strong marketing campaign and interest from fans of de Rosnay's popular Sarah's Key will undoubtedly spur demand for the title. However, many readers will likely be disappointed by de Rosnay's latest Paris novel, which relies more on telling than showing. —Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato
Those who enjoyed Sarah’s Key will recognize de Rosnay’s love for her native France and appreciate the poignancy and tenacity of her characters.
Amid Baron Haussmann's demolition of her quartier, a woman refuses to leave her home in de Rosnay's latest (Sarah's Key, 2008, etc.).... [S]he writes a letter...reflecting on her life, and attempting to parse her own motivations. All tends toward the revelation of a secret she has confessed to no one. De Rosnay's delicacy and the flavor of her beloved Paris are everywhere in this brief but memorable book. Replete with treats, particularly for Paris-lovers—indeed for anyone wedded to a special place.
1. One of the central elements of the novel is Rose’s deep and abiding love for the house in
which she spent her married life, which becomes apparent from her many memories tied
to every room. What does the house represent for Rose and how did it change her life?
By the end of the novel, it seems as though Rose views her house as the most important
thing in her life. Although others would see the house as a possession, do you think
Rose views it that way? Have you ever had this experience of loving a place or a thing as
deeply as if it were a living person?
2. Baron Haussmann was described by his opponents as the "Atilla of the straight line"
and "the Ripper Baron", nicknames that Rose approved of. But Alexandrine, the flower
girl, does not agree, and has another point of view, that of a necessary progress that Paris
badly needed. How do Rose's and Alexandrine's opinions differ and why? Whose do you
feel closest to?
3. Rose loves her son Baptiste deeply, despite the fact that he was associated with an
extremely difficult time of her life – and more than she seems to love their natural
daughter, Violette. Why do you think this is? Do you think it’s true to life or even
possible to love someone (or something) who comes out of intense hardship? Why or
why not? Have you ever experienced or seen relationships like those which Rose has with
each of her children?
4. Secrets are an important theme throughout The House I Loved. By the end of the novel,
we learn that Rose has kept a devastating secret for her entire life from everyone she
holds dear. How do you think it affects a person to keep such an important secret for so
long? How did it affect Rose? Have you ever had a similar experience?
5. In a sense, Rose’s letters to her husband throughout the novel are her way of finally
revealing her secret. Do you see any purpose in her telling the secret at this point in her
life, with her husband already gone? Does it change or help her? And if so, how?
6. Between the years of 1852 and 1870, Napoleon III and Baron Haussman remodeled
major sections of Paris in an attempt to bring the city into the “modern” era. Did you
know anything about this major period of time in Paris’s history before reading this
novel? What surprised or interested you about how Tatiana recreated that era?
7. How do you feel that Rose's secret past (the episode she hides from her husband and
entourage) relates to what Haussmann, the "ripper Baron,” is doing to Paris? How exactly
does Rose, in the final pages, describe her personal ordeal and compare it to Haussmann's
tearing down of her home?
8. Flowers play an important part in this novel. Discuss what Rose learns through the
flower-shop and Alexandrine's job as a florist. Pick out the rare roses and their names,
and how Tatiana de Rosnay uses the symbol of roses and flowers throughout the book.
9. Alexandrine the flower-girl, and Gilbert, the ragpicker, are close to Rose, in different
ways. Discuss the differences and similiarities of their relationship with Rose, of their
secret past, of how they each try to help Rose.
10. The elegant Baronne de Vresse fascinates Rose with her fashionable crinolines and the
balls she attends in Paris and Biarritz. Rose loves clothes and fashion, yet she strongly
disapproves of the fashionable Emperor and Empress. Why do you think this is so? How
does it speak to who Rose is as a character?
11. Rose discovers the joys of reading late in life. How and when does this happen? What is
the first book she falls in love with? Who are the authors she most enjoys reading? Have
you read them? How did you fall under the spell of reading?
12. If you have read Sarah's Key and A Secret Kept, Tatiana's previous novels, can you pick
up a couple of themes that are common to all three books?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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