A Viennese Jew comes to England on the eve of WWII as a housemaid at one of the great English houses. Downton Abbeyish ... except this NYT Bestseller didn't really engage me, though I felt it had a lot of potential.
Elise falls in love with the young man of the house, Kit (short for Christopher), and he falls in love with her; so does his father (also Christopher). And what do you know? There's friction between father and son. But that's really all that happens. Despite the historical period--one of the most written-about periods ever, because there's so much tragedy and pain, so much a sense of evil and fear, longing and partings--the novel passes time rather than having a satisfying arc. I felt a lack of plot--the strongest one being the "which one will she love" romance; but I didn't feel the passion build, or retreat, or tantalize, or restrain itself or explode. I don't like novels where the most eligible, wealthy men all fall in love with the heroine. The characters felt flat to me (her friend Polly's flowing red hair is shorthand for her character); Elise's sass feels contrived: she dresses like a man, shakes her fist at an airplane. However, NS has some elegant, lovely language, especially when she is describing the countryside: "Rabbits hurtled through the long grass, white tails flashing in the morning light. In the distance I heard the roar of the sea, the pull and crash of the tide across the pebbles." She also has some wonderful characterizations for minor characters: "Mrs. Ellsworth would not scold me but she'd rub at the mark with a cloth, her stooped back eloquent in reproach." And I did finish the book; as it is a NYT Bestseller, clearly plenty of people enjoyed it.