Suspend Belief and Enjoy “The House at the End of Hope Street” by Menna van Pragg

9781410461346_p0_v1_s192x300   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.  Unknown-2

Related Reviews:

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

The moon has always had an ethereal draw – even after astronauts proved it was not made of cheese and the man in the moon was made of craters. The glow from the moon can change a mood – wolves howl, lovers connect,  the sea shimmers.

In Sarah Addison Allen’s latest book,  The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Emily Benedict comes to live with her grandfather in the town her mother left and never looked back.    She finds lingering suspicions, old loves concealed in the carvings in the surrounding wood, and a chance to redeem her mother’s reputation.

More a love story than a mystery,  Allen’s quirky writing asks you to suspend belief with wallpaper that changes with the mood of the inhabitant, a real giant (eight feet tall), and a genetic disposition in the town’s elite family that would make Tinkerbell jealous.    Throw in a couple of star-crossed lovers, a baker of aromatic cakes, and a family feud – you have the makings of a good beach read.

Allen’s characters follow a familiar formula.    The two main characters both have mothers who died when they were teens; both are struggling for acceptance and love in a town with a memory – all’s well that ends well.

Allen’s Garden Spells, also set in North Carolina about a family with special gifts, was less contrived and more fun to read.    The charm of Garden Spells will remind you of another favorite – Laura Esquivel’s  Like Water for Chocolate – cooking with a touch of magic.  If you like the idea of using ingredients and attitude to cook up a dish to literally affect others’ moods, you will like both of these.

If you only have time for one – go with Garden Spells.