House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
“Old money, new money, no money” is the theme of this funny, tragic and character filled novel about a family house, the problems of money and the lives affected by it. Set in 2008, it is full of the problems of the past, the impoverished present and the very uncertain future. The house at the centre, Trelawney Castle, has been in the same family for over seven hundred years. It has been a byword for extravagance, for parties that lasted for days, for grand rooms and exceptional grounds. Now it consumes every penny and far more merely to keep the roof on, the leaks out and the drains functioning. The romance of ballrooms and staircases that once held hundreds of guests is now only a memory as curtains disintegrate, effective heating is a distant memory and only a multi millionaire could even contemplate saving the once glorious castle.
The Trelawney family has had its moments, but now it cannot even aspire to genteel elegance as that is far too expensive. Instead Jane, married to Kitto, the heir presumptive to the title and castle, is feeding herself and two younger children on value packs of mince, and trying to convince her parents in law that the non existent servants have the evening off, as the two elderly people still vainly dress for dinner. Her contemporaries are the devastatingly attractive Anastasia, long since departed to marry a maharaja, and the brilliant Blaze, sister to Kitto but ejected from the house aged eighteen. Anastasia has written to Jane and Blaze, predicting her imminent demise and threatening to dispatch her daughter to the care of the two women. Jane is unimpressed as she has enough to do with her own family, as her husband pursues one crazy scheme after another to raise money for the house, never realising the day to day strain his wife is under. Blaze, living alone in London with a regimented life, is unimpressed; she is predicting a financial storm that will shatter many schemes and investments, but is a lone voice among those determined to get rich quick. Two men seem to take opposing views of her skills and abilities, but can she forget the past long enough to trust and survive? Can a black sheep of the family help her, or will she be thrown back on her own resources once more? Meanwhile, a elderly relative with an academic background can afford to move into a few rooms in the house and thus defray some immediate bills, but will she be a good influence on Arabella, impressionable daughter and bored with impoverished isolation?
This is an elegantly written book with some immensely memorable characters who have to negotiate some tricky situations. I really enjoyed the portrait of Blaze, whose ability to negotiate a path through the 2008 crash should be straightforward, had there not been so much baggage from the past and ill will from a male opponent. The mysterious Ayesha turns out to be quite a force of nature, and I also admired the characterisation of Tony, who is possibly the most self aware person in the book. The silent character who dominates this novel is of course Trelawney castle, which embodies the rich past, the shabby present, and the uncertain future. Overall this is a memorable novel filled with well drawn characters whose stories we visit for a short and vitally important time, as expectations are overturned, old stories revealed, and an uncertain future emerges. I recommend it as an absorbing and vivid read.