Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 3, 2020

House of Trelawney, by Hannah Rothschild

House of Trelawney is a mildly amusing satire about the demise of an English aristocratic family in contemporary Cornwall, the literary home of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Winston Graham’s Poldark.  These settings favour Gothic mansions, eccentrics and collisions between classes, and House of Trelawney delivers all of these, along with a villainous hedge fund manager to show that in the shift of power from old money to new money, ordinary Britons are no better off than they were.

The novel is set over 18 months, from the period just before the GFC to some months after it.  The Trelawneys were in financial strife before the financial crisis because Kitto the future heir inherited his father’s gambling streak, and the house is crumbling all around them.  Jayne, who became a viscountess when Kitto married her for her money, is the dogsbody who has taken over the work of running the household and of concealing the true state of affairs from the current earl, Enyon, and his stately wife Clarissa.  Along with owing money to local traders for basics like food and heating, she struggles to pay the fees at Harrow for Ambrose, the oldest boy, who is to inherit the house and title.  He is, predictably, a dim-witted snob, while his siblings Arabella and Toby go to the local comprehensive school and are comparatively normal.  Outsiders from this family include an eccentric great-aunt Tuffy who studies insects, and gay uncle Tony who’s an art dealer for the rich and famous.

The stereotypes continue with the characterisation of Blaze Scott.  Like Tony, she was evicted from the house when her brother Kitto took it over, but she has risen to become star partner at Kerkyra Capital and has the four-inch heels, power suits and lonely singledom to prove it.  However as the only one in the British financial markets to spot the signs of the impending GFC, she is under pressure to retain her clients who prefer the illusion of a never-ending bull market. Enter the villain: Thomlinson Sleet, nursing a grudge from decades ago and determined to ruin her and her family.

The catalyst for the disaster that befalls the family is Ayesha, also with a grudge to bear.  Her mother, the beautiful Anastasia, abandoned a glittering social life for India where she married an impoverished maharajah.  When she dies, her daughter Ayesha suddenly has no place in the family and Anastasia on her death bed calls in the debts from her Oxford friends Blaze and Jayne who abandoned her in her hour of need. Ayesha arrives with a mountain of luggage and Attitude, determined to marry money in order to regain the position she thinks she’s entitled to.

Not much like Mrs Danvers, there is a loyal housekeeper who works without being paid for it, and she has a husband who lost his entire life savings and retirement pension in Kitto’s failed bank, who is nonetheless easily persuaded to treat the family with respect.  The love story moves along with an assortment of Rebecca-ish and Pride-and-Prejudice misunderstandings, but the ins and outs of the plot begin to fizzle as the pages go by.  The novel is, what it is.  Light entertainment, with a nod to the hardships inflicted on ordinary people while the rich and powerful always find a way for their wealth to rebound.

Theresa Smith liked it for escapist reading too. I liked it because it was set in Cornwall, and I have vivid memories of living there as a child.

Author: Hannah Rothschild
Title: House of Trelawney
Publisher: Bloomsbury 2020
ISBN: 9781526600646, pbk., 358 pages
Source: Personal copy, purchased from Readings $29.99


Responses

  1. I can’t say your account inspires me to read this, I’m afraid, despite the local setting – I notice you don’t say anything about that! Rich drones being horrid doesn’t appeal. It’s interesting how a sort of ‘Cornwall romance/mystery/whatever’ set of genres has become popular again, maybe because of the revival of Poldark on TV. I suppose if a person is looking to escape there are worse places to find solace. Rather more engaging, from reviews and other pieces I’ve read, is likely to be Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamina Ash (her name is a hint at her Cornish roots). It’s about her experiences with a local fishing crew.

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    • Doc Martin has made Cornwall popular too, I expect, with a whole village of eccentrics!
      But I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I’m a bit weary of stories mocking the English upper classes. I mean, surely, there must be other more interesting things to write about…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds escapist fun – clearly you should never trust anyone named Thomlinson Sleet :-D

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  3. The only element that would be of interest for me is the setting. A mildly amusing tale of stereotyped characters wouldn’t hold my attention unless I was nursing a cold and didn’t have the energy for more demanding reading material.

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    • TBH I can’t see that a satire on the English class system would hold much interest for Australian readers either.
      (Though we did enjoy To the Manor Born!)

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      • That takes me back a few decades :)

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        • Yes, despite the contemporary thread about modern finance the book had a rather old fashioned feel to it. Though that might have been because we Aussies just don’t relate to the kind of class distinctions in it.

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  4. I love Cornwall and even have a photo of the penguin on Doc Martin’s front step that gets a laugh. This all sounds a bit convoluted for my shallow mind at the moment. The location is great though.

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    • LOL I have to confess that I did not understand a word of the stuff about the GFC. I didn’t understand it when the technicalities of it when it was happening, and I don’t understand it now.

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      • Lol. I know what you mean. Time to move on to the next book I think. 🤠🐧

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        • I”m reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light.
          And I am in heaven!

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  5. I am hearing that a lot now. Book Snob just did a fun post on it this week.

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    • I don’t dare write a word about it yet or I would gush over it.
      (Not that I’m anywhere near finished, not quite 200 pages so far).
      But #GoodNews I went to the optometrist yesterday and he has ordered my new glasses and marked the order ‘urgent’ because he gets it: he’s a reader too so he understands that not being able to read easily is an urgent problem.

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      • I do need to read that trilogy. Have heard so many glorious reviews about it but not on my radar at the moment. My eyes need a stent in them and I have been told no new glasses until after that. It drives me nuts but at least I know correction is on the horizon. Next appt in July.

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        • Oh, that’s a bit scary. Does that count as elective surgery? I was so lucky that I just scraped in with my surgery before elective surgery was cancelled, and I was also lucky that I didn’t need a stent. (Well, not yet anyway.)

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          • Yes, I think it does cou t as elective but now the hospitals are starting on elective surgeries I think. Will know more after July.

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