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3.7 out of 5 stars
House of Orphans
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A well researched novel set in Finland in the years running up to 1902, during the period when the country was dominated by its giant bear of a neighbour, Russia. Dunmore's writing has developed something of a sub-genre lately, focusing on war, upheaval and revolution, firstly with The Siege and now with this novel which has a similarly political background. Dunmore humanises the book by means of the story of an orphan, Eeva. The class-ridden nature of society in Finland during this time gives Eeva only the slenderest of chances to escape a life of servitude. She is lucky in that she ends up housekeeping for an enlightened doctor and eventually leaves, with his connivance, to live a revolutionary existence in Helskinki, which seethes with the presence of Russian agents.

A novel dominated by the raw and unpalatable upheaval of that era, this is a patchy read, with the writing sometimes flattened by Dunmore's close adherence to the political circumstances which dominate the lives of most of her protagonists. There is a sliver of hope in the ending for Eeva and her Helsinki lover, Lauri, but Dunmore might have given us a definite if not a happier ending.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2007
I enjoyed Dunmore's description of life in rural Finland at the turn of the century. There was an attention to detail which was fascinating and her portrayal of the characters at the orphanage and the doctor and his family was sympathetic and well-researched. The poverty of the farming communitites is a stark contrast to the comforts of the Swedish speaking bourgeoisie in the early 1900s. With the doctor's help Eeva moves back to Helsinki, and her life amidst the political turmoil of the new city is again an interesting contrast to her childhood years in the security and the purity of the countryside.

Although I enjoyed the beginning of the book I felt we lost Eeva after she moved back to Helsinki. The narrative switched without transition from one character to another without developing to any climax. I was surprised when I reached the end of the book, and was frustrated that some of the characters had slid out of the novel without me noticing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
When I started this novel, I thought I was really going to enjoy it. I love Helen Dunmore's writing, and in this book, it is as fluid and effortless as ever. But the story seems to lose direction, and when the heroine, Eeva, moves from the country to Helsinki, the plot becomes looser, more muddled and less satisfying. I missed the kind doctor of the first part and the delicate portrayal of his relationship with Eeva, and the political activities of Eeva's new friends in Helsinki failed to grab my attention. Like at least one other reviewer, I was surprised and puzzled when the novel suddenly ended, with so many questions unanswered. This book was altogether a disappointment; definitely not one of her best.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 10 September 2009
Set in Finland in the early 1900's and selected from the 2006 orange long list. Unfortunately if did not make the shortlist but I was very happy to have read the book which I enjoyed.

Set against the backdrop of the Finish uprising against Russian domination in 1901. I have not read anything set in Finland before and found this made the book more interesting for me. A 16 year old Eevie leaves an orphanage to become a maid for a country doctor. We see Eevie come to terms with her new life with the doctor and I found this part the book the best. The Finish love their spas ! and some great 'Spa' moments are included in this book.

SPOLIER

The doctor slowly falls in love with Eevie and this was very well done and convincing and for me this is where the book should have ended..

After she leaves for Helsinki to be with her true love I think the book loses pace and would have been just as good a read without this.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2007
Dunmore once returns to a historical novel, as she did in The Siege, which remains one of my favourites by her, along with A Spell in Winter. All her books, whether contemporary or historical, take their plot from the characters.

This book is set in Finland in turbulent (and fascinating) political times, but wears its research lightly.

It is the story of Eeva, daughter of a political activist, who is sent to an orphanage and from there into service, working for a country doctor.

This is a wonderful book, deft and elegant, without being difficult or condescending.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2013
I really enjoyed the first part of this book. We meet Thomas & learn how he meets Eeva at the House of Orphans & how she comes to work in his house. The narrative flows along easily & the atmospheric descriptions really bring the orphanage & Thomas' house in the forest alive. I felt it lost most of this when Eeva leaves Thomas & the house in the forest to move back to Helsinki & her revolutionary boyfriend. From the blurb, I thought more would have been made about the relationship between Eeva & Thomas but this fell short for me. The book was a little too short & the ending left me wanting more.
I came to this after reading The Siege &The Betrayal, both also by Helen Dunmore & both of which I would highly recommend over this.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2007
This is one of those incredibly satisying novels that takes you into an unfamiliar world and then propels you along through terrific characters and a satisfying plot. I never knew I'd be interested in Finland in the 1900s, but I was gripped, and taken into two contrasting worlds of Helsinki the new modern city and the backwoods of the Finnish countryside. It's a love story -- a triangular one -- and it's also about revolution and terrorism and full of suspense.

The characters are by turns noble, touching and sinister -- and sometimes all three.

Thoroughly recommended.
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on 6 January 2013
To me this book is as much about what forced people in countries across Europe to make new beginnings out of their various feudal pasts, as it is about a particular time and place (Finland in the very early 1900s).

Some of the customer reviews of House of Orphans complain about the switch in style as the book moves from the countryside to the city. I guess maybe what Helen Dunmore was attempting here was to show how the move from rural to urban living took place concurrently with a change in storytelling style: from whatever went before (lyrical realism?) to modernism. I imagine she was trying to reflect that in the way she wrote this. Hence the detailed and sustained narrative style in the early section that deals with Eevi and the Doctor in the countryside, and the more jumpy, at times discordant, style of narration once Eevi moves out of the doctor's house and begins to make a new life the city.

I slightly agree that not enough happens here, towards the end, that the novel somehow feels unfinished. It feels as though we're moving towards a crash point but the author bottles it and whatever crash is coming (revolution, assassination, emigration) happens off the page. But this could be intentional. Either way I still found this book well worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Quite a good read. The rave reviews on the back caused me to expect more. To say she is one of the best living novelists, makes me feel sorry about the quality of our current writers. I did not like the ending, most of the book told a story. The last chapter summarised the characters as if they were items on a shopping list, I found it disappointing and unsatisfactory . It was almost as if she had run out of steam and needed to dispense with the characters in a hurry.
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on 28 January 2013
Towards the end of the book there is this rather telling sentence that could also apply to our modern world:

"The way things are these days you can get arrested only for looking too cheerful when they think you ought to be looking sad."

And that's really what I felt after finishing the book, an overwhelming sense of sadness. The story portrays Finland in the earliest part of the 20th century and the protests that happened over "Russification" while the Tsar still held power. It is not a page-turner, but a reliable plodder. Nevertheless, I really question the wisdom of some of the characters depicted and why they seemed to have a death wish, as if there was no alternative. Probably the only person who could finally look back on a successful, fulfilled life was the old doctor, out in the back of beyond, while the hotheads and the easily led spent their lives in the big city and subjected themselves to all kinds of propaganda and threat. I would suggest you only read this book if you're not already feeling sad, otherwise the emotional burden may be too much to bear. Put it this way, I'm glad I live in Lincolnshire in 2013 and not in Finland in 1903!
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