By Ekta R. Garg
December 5, 2018
Genre: Historical fiction
Release date: October 23, 2018
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
A powerful European family finds itself bowing under the weight of war. Family members will find themselves on opposite sides of the lines in ideology as well as geography, and they will face hardships unlike any they’ve ever experienced. Author Natasha Solomons offers readers a studied look at how war affects the rich and famous in her unnecessarily drawn-out novel House of Gold.
In Austria, Greta Goldbaum ponders marriage—her own, that is. As a member of the influential Goldbaum family, Greta knows her lot in life is set. She’s expected to marry within the family to keep the name, and their Jewish heritage, intact. Marrying inside of the family also allows for all the money to stay in one place, and no one can deny that when it comes to money the world tips its hat to the Goldbaums.
Greta isn’t so sure about what’s expected of her, however. She’s agreed to marry her distant cousin, Albert, from England, and she’ll have to leave her beloved Vienna for the damp English weather. She just hasn’t made up her mind yet about how much she likes Albert.
Life in England brings a drastic change and, in some ways, a welcome one. Greta escapes her overbearing mother, for one thing. Also, despite missing home, she starts to feel freedom in her new country; the kind of freedom she didn’t feel in Austria. When Greta and Albert’s relationship gets off to a rocky start, her mother-in-law offers a distraction: a garden for Greta to call her own. Greta puts her attention and energy into it, and like a young seedling given the right space her marriage with Albert also begins to blossom.
Even their budding romance can’t shade itself from the threat of World War I, which brings a whole host of complications. The greatest one comes in the monetary cost: war officials count on the resources the Goldbaum family can provide, even while discriminating against “common” Jews all in the same breath. The double standard makes Albert and some of his other cousins think twice about just where the money is going, but no one can doubt the power of currency. If it’s gone, the only thing that matters is that it’s been spent. The Goldbaums must do all they can to preserve their fortune or risk becoming destitute themselves.
Author Natasha Solomons gives readers some pleasant tidbits about life as a member of the most elite level of society. The Goldbaums consume lavish meals. They travel in private transportation of every form. They own hothouses where teams of gardeners force flowers and fruits and vegetables to grow at the family’s pleasure, regardless of the season.
However, the story itself meanders from topic to topic. Readers will go from scenes of Greta and Albert and the awkwardness of the first months of their semi-arranged marriage to scenes between senior Goldbaum men as they discuss politics and finance. Thrown into the mix are moments with Henri, a member of the French branch of the family as well as Otto, Greta’s brother, in Austria and then in England when he comes to visit. Albert’s brother, Clement, also features somewhat prominently for a while but then inexplicably gets relegated to the background until he almost disappears.
Solomons interjects with a subplot about Karl, a beggar boy who eventually connects with one of the Goldbaums to show that war doesn’t care about bank balances; it devastates anyone. While Karl’s story offers a mild distraction from the other plot points, it doesn’t enhance the overall book. In fact, had Karl not been in the novel, the book wouldn’t have suffered in any way.
The biggest challenge for readers will be the scope of the novel. They may wonder exactly what it is Solomons wants her target audience to glean from the book. An insipid end that brings the Goldbaums to two years before the end of World War I doesn’t offer any answers. The Goldbaums find themselves limping along in their every-day lives to survive the financial and emotional toll of the war, and readers who stick with the story to the end will find themselves frustrated with the lackluster conclusion.
Those interested in historical fiction might find House of Gold interesting. Otherwise, I recommend readers Bypass it.