- Audiobook Review
- Author: Menna van Praag
- Performed by Elizabeth Sastre
- Released: February 2016 by Lamplight Audio
- Category: Contemporary Fiction, Supernatural
A magical debut about an enchanted house that offers refuge to women in their time of need.
Alba Ashby, a nineteen year old Cambridge student, is devastated and her world shattered, after she experiences the worst possible event of her life, both professionally and personally. As she wanders aimlessly through the streets of Cambridge she finds herself at the door of number 11 Hope Street and feels inexplicably drawn to the house. She is invited in by Peggy Abbot, the ‘oldest and most beautiful woman’ Alba has ever seen.
Alba knows immediately this house is different and special. She is able to see things most people do not – auras, ghosts and she can see scents and sounds manifest as vivid and intense colours. The walls of the house are covered in photographs of famous historical and literary figures who have stayed at the house at one time or another during the last two hundred years. As she and Peggy sit in the kitchen with mugs of hot chocolate, Alba is encouraged to stay for the allotted ninety-nine nights, after which she must leave.
‘Well, I …’ A thousand questions crowd Alba’s mind, so she asks the first one that comes to her lips. ‘But why ninety-nine nights?’
‘Ah, yes,’ Peggy says. ‘Well, because it’s long enough to help you turn your life around and short enough so you can’t put it off forever.’
‘Oh,’ Alba says, thinking it’ll be impossible to pick up the pieces of her shattered life in such a tiny amount of time, let alone get everything back on track.
After Peggy explains how the house will help her and promises it will give her what she needs, although not necessarily what she wants, Alba stays. And with her two housemates, Greer and Carmen, who have also experienced terrible events which changed their lives, feel the house and it’s ghostly occupants working their magic and offering advice. Even Peggy who has been at the house for most of her life, has changes to make in order to move forward.
The escapism of the book and the idea of a magical house like this that offers hope, care and encouragement is lovely. The storyline builds slowly but steadily, fleshing out the diverse and quirky collection of inhabitants of the house as it goes. Each of them have their problems and damaged emotions and as their stories unfold the characters come to life and begin to heal, find out who they really are and what will make their lives happy and complete.
I did find the narrative a little confusing at times, changing point of view often and slipping into the past now and again, but maybe that was because I was listening rather than having the book in front of me. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Sastre did a very good job with the narration.
About Menna van Praag
Menna van Praag was born in Cambridge, England and studied Modern History at Oxford University. Her first novella – an autobiographical tale about a waitress who aspires to be a writer – Men, Money & Chocolate has been translated into 26 languages. Her first work of literary fiction, The House at the End of Hope Street, was inspired by an idea the author had to set up a house for female artists to give them a year to fulfil their artistic ambitions. Her next novel, The Dress Shop of Dreams, is set on the magical street of All Saints Passage where a scientist falls in love with a mysterious man who has a magical voice. The Witches of Cambridge will be released February, 2016. All van Praag’s novels are set among the colleges, cafes and bookshops of Cambridge, England.