The Valentine House by Emma Henderson

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The Valentine House by Emma Henderson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A tale that transports the readers to the beautiful French Alps, and in time back to both 1914 and mid 1970s, The Valentine House is a read full of intriguing mysteries and interesting characters.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444704020

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In June 1914, Sir Anthony Valentine, a keen mountaineer, arrives with his family to spend the summer in their chalet, high in the French Alps. There, for the first time, fourteen-year-old foundling Mathilde starts work as one of the 'uglies' - village girls employed as servants and picked, it is believed, to ensure they don't catch Sir Anthony's roving eye. For Mathilde it is the start of a life-long entanglement with les anglais - strange, exciting people, far removed from the hard grind of farming. Except she soon finds the Valentines are less carefree than they appear, with a curiously absent daughter no one talks about. It will be decades - disrupted by war, accidents and a cruel betrayal - before Mathilde discovers the key to the mystery. And in 1976, the year Sir Anthony's great-great grandson comes to visit, she must decide whether to use it.

Emma Henderson is an Oxford- and Yale- educated author, who previously published the Orange Prize shortlisted Grace Williams Says It Loud. She previously ran a ski and snowboard lodge in the French Alps - a setting which is at the heart of The Valentine House. I'm not much of a skier - I've been twice, but after seemingly spending a huge amount of money to spend large periods of time stuck on my back in the snow, I quickly became far more interested in the cheese, wine, and stunning scenery. That scenery takes centre stage in The Valentine House, and, once the reader is past the first, breathtaking chapter (breathtaking due to the gasp inducing language used in the first couple of pages!), they are swept into a tale that spans over 50 years, with a sweep full of mysteries, fascinating characters and enjoyable humour.

Mathilde is a young girl who, in 1914, is sent to work at a holiday chalet owned by a wealthy English family. Mathilde is an uglie - a girl unattractive enough that Sir Anthony Valentine will not be tempted by her. Once the reader has, through Mathilde, got to know the people who inhabit that chalet, the story switches to 1976, with a character called George picking up the narrative - having just lost his parents, he begins to uncover the mysteries of the house, with plenty of flipping back and forth between the two narratives. The structure works well, and there are plenty of plot strands that are weaved into an overall compelling narrative, although some do feel a little excessive - there's a lot going on, and the plot occasionally feels a little flabby as a result.

However, this is a strong read, with excellent characters, an intriguing plot, and a stunning setting. If you fancy finding yourself in the fresh, clean air of the alps, full of cheese and wine and wathcing the fascinating goings on in The Valentine House, then you're in for a treat. Many thanks for the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I recommend The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. A tale set in a vastly different period, it's nevertheless a compelling tale that takes in a fascinating range of characters in the Holland of the late 1600's.

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Buy The Valentine House by Emma Henderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Valentine House by Emma Henderson at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Valentine House by Emma Henderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Valentine House by Emma Henderson at


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