The Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomon
Plume, 2015. Trade paperback, 426 pages.
The Song of Hartgrove Hall opens in 2000, making this a historical fiction novel with a duel timeline. In this timeline, Henry Fox-Talbot (Fox, to his friends and brothers) has just lost his wife. He is learning how to cope without her. One day when he is unexpectedly babysitting his grandson, he discovers that four-year-old Robin is a piano prodigy. Being a well-known composer, Fox begins to teach Robin. Soon, however, Fox must also help Robin in his emotional journey and Robin will also helps Fox in his.
In the historical timeline, the Fox-Talbot men have returned to Hartgrove Hall after the Second World War. The hall is in decline, more so after housing troops during the war. The father, known only as “The General” wishes to demolish the old house. However, the sons do not and take on the role of bringing the home back to its former glory. However, this is only part of the story. The oldest, Jack, is in a relationship with popular wartime singer Edie Rose. Both of his younger brothers are also enamored with her. Middle brother George wants to change the way things have been done for years at the hall and improve production. Lastly, Fox wants nothing more than to return to Cambridge and his music. However, he is trapped at home. Edie does her best to help him cope until one day when everything changes. How long will it take Fox to find his place in the world and how does he manage? And will Hartgrove Hall be saved?
I’m a bit ambivalent about his novel. I love the interaction between Fox and Robin and how they help each other through their struggles. I also liked the historical context that was set up for the post-World War II timeline; Solomon was correct that many older families went through this struggle after the war ended. It was simply too costly to maintaining the old way of living and repair the decrepit houses, especially after the inheritance tax debuted a few generations earlier. Compared to other works addressing this issue, this is the only one I’ve found for addressing post-WWII not post-WWII thought WWII often “finished off” financially the families WWI did not. However, many times I wanted to knock some sense into the characters; they were stubborn and could not act as their hearts willed due to a sense of duty. It was also odd for me, as a female, to read a novel written in the perspective of a male as written by a female. It just felt like an odd concept on the historic timeline, though it worked great for the modern (when Fox was younger, he was very much a typical testosterone-filled male. So was Jack.). If you read this novel, I think you’ll understand me view better. Lastly, the writing style is very poetic with many descriptions and comparisons.
The Song of Hartgrove Hall will be released tomorrow, 12/29/15.
Do you think you’ll read this novel? Do you know another novel or movie addressing the downfall of great European families after World War II?
I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher for this review.