The House of Special Purpose – by John Boyne – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Russia)

An imaginative tale of a 20th century Russian couple, from their childhoods under Tsarist rule to lives as emigres living in London in the 1980s. Four stars awarded on Goodreads, but that might be a tiny bit generous.

I chose to read this book because it was written by an author, John Boyne, whose most recent book, THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES, completely enthralled me! But although well-written, interesting, and inventive– I would not put this one in quite the same league.

Throughout this novel, moving forward and back in time, Boyne pieces together the life of Georgy and Zoya, over decades.

Georgy, the son of a peasant farmer, winds up entering the highest echelons of St. Petersburg society during World War I, following a spontaneous act of heroism. There, he becomes part of the inner circle surrounding the Tsar Nicolas II’s family. And, reminiscent of Forrest Gump, he manages to find himself in attendance at some of the most pivotal moments in Russian history.

Tsar Nicolas II and his family. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Zoya’s background remains more mysterious (until the end, that is), though it is clear she is haunted by her past.

The two form a deep attachment (a bit of Romeo and Juliet here) which remains steadfast, even after they flee the Russian Revolution and settle first in Paris, and later in London.

There are a few unexpected developments which I won’t detail so as not to spoil your read. And, if you know a bit about Russian history, you’ll find this version deviates a bit. But I will confess that I wish Boyne’s version had actually happened.

John Boyne

More about John Boyne.

You may be interested in my reviews of other books by John Boyne:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

A Ladder to the Sky

A History of Loneliness

Next of Kin

The Absolutist