The Valentine House by Emma Henderson
The Valentine House is a family saga with a French Alps backdrop – a novel full of the intrigue and ambiguity that is to be expected from its spanning generations of the same family and their time in their summer house in the mountains. The story is held together by Mathilde, a girl from a local farm who goes to work at the house in the summer of 1914, surrounded by the mountaineer Sir Anthony Valentine and his family. As her story unfolds, so does the tale of the summer of 1974 when Sir Anthony’s great-great grandson George comes to visit the house and old secrets are brought back out.
The plot line is much to be expected from this kind of novel, with scandal, arguments, and hidden secrets being revealed by showing the impact of multiple generations of a family and the location they kept returning to. The remote mountain setting allows for some interesting points about the effect of les anglais (as the novel calls them) on the locals and how these intruders are seen. It also adds to the kind of claustrophobic feel of a family all coming together and staying in one house, out of the way of most of humanity, which is reflected in the oppressive heatwave of 1974. Henderson plays around with bits of French and with language barriers in a way that highlights the differences between the English and French characters, particularly in terms of the lack of French much of the former speak. These moments add colour to the novel, adding interest beyond that of the family intrigue.
This novel is an enjoyable read, similar to others focusing on the span of generations of a family in a certain place, but with a setting that brings an interesting look at cultural exchange and language as a sideline. The twists in the narrative are quite easily worked out, but the various descriptions of the mountains leave a lasting impression. The Valentine House would make a good, fairly light holiday read of a more literary nature.