There’s nothing quite as inexplicable as staying up all night to finish reading a good book. It’s not like the book is going anywhere…and the story won’t change…but I still can’t put it down.
This weekend, I went on a bit of a book bender and read The House By the Lake and Everything We Keep. A historical fiction that bounces between pre-WWII Europe and San Francisco, The House on the Lake was a quick, if not totally satisfying, read. The story follows Anna, a successful café owner, as she journeys through pieces of her Grandfather Max’s life and attempts to patch together his life story while holding hostage her own broken heart.
I enjoyed the pre-WWII European setting of the book. Carey is fantastic at building a scene, right down to the details of the light shimmering on the lake, and the book had a fantastic story-line. A large portion of this plot is Max’s endless secrecy and riddles, which while intriguing at first, got old and annoying as he never revealed anything important. It would have been better if Anna had found a letter in Max’s belongings or an old photograph or something beyond the cryptic 10 second phone calls she shared with Max.
Of all of the characters introduced in this book, and there are dozens (many superfluous to the story), the characters of Isabel and Marthe are by far the most intriguing and most well developed. One couldn’t help but feel sympathy with Isabel’s teenage longing for belonging, acceptance, and a steady future.
Some of the major characters felt under developed and incomplete. Max, while a major character and the cause for the entire plot, never fleshed out or developed, leaving one wondering why Anna would fly around the world on a whim to satisfy his request of retrieving a lost item from his childhood home. Wil, also a major player, never fleshed out entirely, he was dropped into the book like a modern day Prince Charming. He’s gorgeous, has a great career, a beautiful house, impeccable manners, and not a single flaw in sight.
Because certain characters were much more fleshed out than others, the book had a little bit of an unbalanced feeling as you read. I cared immensely about Isabel, but couldn’t muster up an ounce of sympathy for Max’s sister, despite her incredible story.
In addition to the character imbalance, some of the relationships between the characters weren’t as developed as a reader would hope they’d be. Carey spent a lot of time detailing nonessential characters like Cass, the Mayor, and Wil’s friends, while leaving the important relationships gaping with large holes that the reader was left to patch together.
I would have liked to see more development of a relationship between Anna and Max beyond the author’s approach of telling the reader how much Anna loved her grandfather. I also would have loved to see a little bit more depth in Max’s relationships with Isabel, his sister, Hans, and how he came to marry Jean. Anna’s relationships with Ingrid and Wil felt a little too fairy-tale all is well, as did what should have been a complicated relationship (but wasn’t) between Anna and Ingrid.
In between all of the characters, the relationships, and travelling through time and countries, WWII and Hitler loomed in the background and on the fringes of Isabel and Max’s relationship, never making their way into the forefront of the story. The fear and panic creeping through Europe at this time was never really addressed in the characters beyond rumors and familial duty.
I kept reading thinking all of Max’s life would be revealed in a satisfactory way, which it wasn’t. Ella Carey never went on to explain how Max got to America, how he met Anna’s grandmother, why he married her, etc.
All in all, this was a quick and easy read. The character development could use some work, but it had a good story-line. This is a definite summer beach or poolside read when you want something with a good story-line that isn’t too complex.
Title: The House on the Lake
Rating: 3 stars
Location best to enjoy: Beach or Pool
Best Paired with: Something summery and light, like a summer Grapefruit beer or a light sangria.