This is, and I quote, “a tale of old money, new money and no money at all.”
In the “House of Trelawney” we are witness to what would seem to be the imminent demise of what was once declared “the grandest, if not the finest, stately home in the county of Cornwall.” The centuries old house, with its 4 miles of corridors and a room for each day of the year, is decaying rapidly & dangerously around the family who still lives there, freezing cold, plagued by draughty windows, dodging leaky roofs and crumbling plasterwork.
There is no money for staff, no money for the oil to keep the boilers going, and they all subsist on a diet of cheap supermarket mince. In the case of the ageing Earl & Countess, they also live in the past, imagining they are surrounded by servants, dressing for dinner (cheap supermarket mince, night after night) ineptly cooked and hurriedly served by their hardworking, trying-to-hold-it-all-together daughter-in-law, Jane.
The novel highlights the immense expense involved in just keeping so grand a property going, and the clash between old money and new money. Trelawney is at the centre of everyone’s lives, with some family members trying (unsuccessfully) to keep it going, whilst others try (unsuccessfully) to forget the house and the estate they have left behind.
In stark contrast to the impoverished country lifestyle of the aristocracy of Trelawney, is life in the City of London in the heady days before the financial crash of 2008.
This is the world of Jane’s sister-in-law Blaze, who is a financial expert.
Since she left Trelawney, Blaze’s world has been that of opulent corporate skyscrapers and monochrome renovated Docklands flats.
“House of Trelawney” is a light, easy read but a tad superficial, which is disappointing given the central premise of the book – money, class, privilege, inherited wealth and status.
The characters are all rather one-dimensional and almost stock-in-trade : arrogant son, evil villain, decent chap, career woman, threatening young woman.
There are moments of good fun – such as the dowager Countess becoming the unlikely star of a TV reality show, but the real star of the book, and the glue holding it together, is the beautiful old house, with its amazing, overgrown gardens and its centuries of history.
The descriptions of the house and gardens are lyrical, bringing them to life more successfully than many of the human residents.
In “normal” times, I would’ve said this was a good, untaxing holiday read.
But since holidays appear to be off the menu for most of us this year, I’ll call it a good, untaxing lockdown read.