As a fan of magical realism in literature, I thoroughly enjoyed an old book by an author new to me – The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Pragg. The idea for the story was inspired by van Pragg’s yearning to establish a house for female artists to give them a year to fulfull their artistic ambitions. This house, however, exists in its own dimension, only appearing to those who need it.
Van Pragg’s story revolves around three women who need motivation to follow their dreams – Alba, the youngest woman admitted to Cambridge who is betrayed by her family and her university advisor; Greer, who at thirty-nine has yet to achieve her goals of becoming an actress and a mother; and Carmen, the sexy singer with a murderous past.
Taking a cue from the Harry Potter books, van Pragg has portraits on the walls coming alive to speak and give advice. These pictures, however, are of famous women, from literary giants – Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Agatha Christie – to esteemed scientists and suffragettes. The stream of prominent women marching through the plot adds to the fun as each of the main characters faces her challenge and moves on to a better life. Words stream by in banners, notes mysteriously drop from the chandeliers, colors surround characters in auras of emotion. The House mysteriously and suddenly provides whatever its occupants need: a magical wardrobe (a nod to C.S. Lewis), shelves of books with titles constantly refreshed, a baby grand piano.
If you enjoy the tales of Erin Morgenstern, Sarah Addison Allen, and Alice Hoffman, you might add Menna van Pragg to your list of happy diversions – magical realism with a British flavor.
When I discovered van Pragg had written a book with the irresistible title of Men, Money, and Chocolate (2009) – with recipes, I ordered it immediately as an ebook ($1.99). The story is a little too heavy on schmaltz and not my style, but the recipes may be worth trying. Van Pragg’s The Witches of Cambridge, (2016) looks like more fun and is on my list, as is her latest from England to be published in the United States soon – The Lost Art of Letter Writing.