A slim narrative with much of the story told through letters written by and to widow and lifelong Parisian Rose Bazelet, Tatiana de Rosnay’s The House I Loved is a tale as dark and haunting as the Edgar Allan Poe stories full of ghastly secrets that Rose so admires.

Readers learn early on that Rose has a ghastly secret of her own—and it’s not just that she’s hiding in the cellar of her beloved, three-story home on the rue Childebert while Emperor Louis-NapolĂ©on Bonaparte and Baron Georges-Eugene Haussman tear Paris down rue by rue in order to rebuild a modern city.

Replacing interweaving streets and medieval buildings with straight boulevards and modern facades appalls Rose. Even though her home is in the path of destruction, she refuses to leave, relying on a ragpicker to bring her food, water and coal to keep warm. Also sustaining her are memories, as revealed in the letters she writes to her dead husband.

Fans of de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key will not find the same kind of compelling, page-turning urgency in The House I Loved. Its pace is slow—meandering even, like the walks Rose used to take along the Seine on warm summer evenings. However, the details de Rosnay provides allow readers not only to see Rose in her fine silk bonnets, but to feel her emotions.

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