Picture if you will a woman whose life has fallen apart. She is wandering down the street, desperate and sad, and comes upon a house she’s never seen before. She’s drawn to the house in a way she can’t explain, and after knocking on the door, is welcomed in as if expected. She finally feels like she’s home.
Hundreds of women have found refuge at the house on Hope Street, and the latest to do so is Alba Ashby. She’s left her graduate studies at Cambridge University, but has a distant relationship with her family and is unable to tell them what has happened. Alba has 99 days to figure out what to do next, and then she must leave, as per house rules.
While the story is mainly that of Alba, perspective occasionally switches to the other current residents. The house has informed Peggy, the current caretaker, that this is her last year in that position, which she assumes means she’s going to die. The position of caretaker is one that has been passed down through her family, but with no living relatives, she’s unsure who the next person will be.
Also staying at the house are Carmen, a voluptuous Portuguese singer who has left her husband under mysterious circumstances, and Greer, an actress who finds her wardrobe in the house suddenly filled with glamorous clothing. Carmen’s and Greer’s stories are intertwined with Alba’s, as well as Peggy’s, as she struggles between her allegiance to the house and her relationship with Harry, a man she has loved for 20 years but cannot marry.
The house is quite magical, as it provides what the current residents need, but not until the right moment. The walls are adorned with portraits of former residents — Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie, Doris Lessing, and many more, who speak to each other and to the house’s residents. When the house needs to pass along information, it appears in the form of notes that fall from the ceiling. Peggy’s sanctuary, the back garden, is hidden from the other women in the house by windows that show only trees. And the house provides an unending supply of ginger biscuits.
In the last few years I’ve come to enjoy the magical realism genre and The House at the End of Hope Street fits right in with Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman. While parts of the story were a bit thin, I enjoyed the overall idea of the story and the strong female characters, both the living and the ones in frames on the walls. This was a fun read about the power of hope, friendship, and love.
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