The House of Special Purpose


John Boyne's latest novel is a new take on the Anastasia story. In this version she survives the massacre of the Tsar's family, and starts a new life in Paris and ultimately London with a former bodyguard to the Tsarevich. It's at times a very moving book, the Russian backdrop is wonderfully described, as is much of the experience of being in exile, and the love story is tenderly told.

One major pitfall however is that this book should have been written 20 years earlier. Then it would not have been too hard to believe that a member of the Imperial family had survived - now, of course, it is well known that every member of the family was killed - probably together in the basement of the House of Special Purpose in Yekaterinburg. Further information on this can be found here, although this article refers to the bodies found as being those of Maria and Alexei, later tests proved that they were almost certainly Anastasia and her brother. Either way, all bodies of the Romanov family have now been accounted for.

I found it hard to suspend disbelief in an event that I knew could not have happened, i.e. the survival of a member of the family. Further to this there were a number of anachronisms which were irritating, and I also found it hard to belief that a Russian peasant could fall in love, and even more unimaginably, have his love returned by a member of one of the most notoriously snobbish royal families of Europe.

Understandably as the book was told from the Royalist side, there was a shocking lack of focus on what was happening outside their cushioned cocoon, and yet again the Tsar is portrayed as a tragic figure, who was in no way responsible for what happened to him. I'm not suggesting by this that I approve of the violence of the Revolution, or endorse what would become of the Russian state following the revolution, but life in Russia beyond the Upper classes was grim, and this is just not reflected in the book. Any mention of the lives of the peasants is just glossed over, or brushed aside. In fact it sometimes feels as though Boyne believes that the peasants are to a certain extent responsible for their condition, which is clearly untrue.

It's a decent romantic read, but there is no depth to the novel, and afficionados of historical fiction should read it with a large pinch of salt.


Popular Posts