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The House of Murder
The House of Special Purpose - John Boyne
Member Name: Emmamac1
The House of Special Purpose - John Boyne
Date: 28/03/10, updated on 29/03/10 (121 review reads)
Advantages: A good read
Disadvantages: Sways away from the real historical events
Georgy Jachmenev is a young, 16 year old Russian boy. During 1915, in a small village called Kashin, Georgy rather bravely (or some may think stupidly) steps in front of an assassin's bullet, saving the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievich (a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II). As a reward for his heroic gesture, Georgy has been charged with looking after the Tsar's son, young Alexei. From here on his life is about to change, where he will see and travel beyond his previous limited boundaries, be introduced into a world of wealth, find love and become caught up in the countries political turmoil.
Jumping sixty five years we meet an old Georgy, based in England, who has been happily married to his true love, Zoya for over sixty years. From Zoya's hospital room, Georgy starts to revisit his past and with this he brings back many significant memories.
The House of Special Purpose is written by John Boyne, the author famous for The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas. Once again, he has written his novel based (loosely) around historical occurrences. In this novel, the core of the story is based on the Russian Imperial Family, the Romanovs and their demise as the Bolshevik take control. However, it also follows Georgy's life, working from 1981, as a man in his eighties, backwards to when he was working for the Imperial Family.
This point leads on to how the book was formatted. I really enjoyed how Boyne has structured the novel. The first chapter is about an eighty year old Georgy (1981), the second travels back to the Imperial times (1916). From here it alternates between Georgy's post Imperial life, with each of these chapters going back in time (1979, 1970, 1953 as examples) and his time with the Imperial family, until eventually the story becomes one in 1918, and everything is answered. Now, this may seem confusing, but it is what makes the book, as you are following two different stories, via Georgy's flashbacks, and as each chapter ends you want to read more to find out what is going to happen next.
I rather liked Georgy. He was a quiet, loyal person who was definitely a man of habit. His life, whilst in exile, was one of routine, which was the complete opposite to his younger life as a guard and escapee. There are various other characters which were prominent in Georgy's life, including the Tsar's family and Rasputin. I felt a need to get to know these character's in greater detail, but unfortunately this just did not happen. Rasputin was a real nasty guy, who could have given the novel a lot more juicy happenings along with thrilling episodes.
The novel is a work of fiction, but Boyne has used historical events to develop his story. I was a little disappointed, as much of the historical content was not actually what happened in reality. Boyne seemed to be writing an alternative, lets say imaginary, demise of the Romanovs and the Imperial era. It was as if Boyne wrote about what he wished would have happened to the Imperial Family. For me, much of the novel was based on Imperial Russia, and I would have enjoyed it far more it the historical content was accurate. It is also quite a difficult subject to write a novel on, as we all know the eventual outcome. What he accomplished with The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas he has failed to do with this novel.
The rest of the book is super, following Georgy's life, sharing his emotions and adventures. Much of his life was spent looking over his shoulder as he was living in exile. Throughout the novel there is an ongoing beautiful love story, which is predictable but still enjoyable. It is a marriage which has survived against all odds, including tragedy, temptation and the loss of loved ones.
It is a lovely story which is written well, both in style and format. In general, it is easy to read, and not too taxing, which I found to be great escapism. But, Boyne has let it down, by swaying away from the actual truth which was always a niggle in the back of my mind. It could have been so much better, and far more thrilling, with accurate historical data. Overall I did enjoy the actual story, and did get lost in Georgy's life tales, despite it being fairly predictable.
The House of Special Purpose is published by Black Swan
Number of pages 428 (large paper book)
Summary: An enjoyable book to be read with a pinch of salt!