... 20 sparkling mini-essays ... Skilfully deploying biography, close reading and psychogeography, Hardyment creates a series of charming house portraits ... In truth, Hardyment has not found much new to say about these literary homes but, like an excellent housekeeper, she rearranges and polishes up the furniture in such a way that you find yourself inclined to linger. Nor is her job always quite as easy or obvious as you might at first think. Literary houses have a disconcerting habit of either disappearing halfway through a text, or switching places with an uncanny twin.
... agreeable ... Hardyment’s commentary jogs us along at a comfortable pace ... We may not have needed telling that the current and very well-visited residence of Sherlock Holmes on London’s Baker Street was recreated on the site of a bank, or that Henry James regarded the country house as one of England’s greatest achievements ... Surprises do occasionally emerge ... Chapters on Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead and E.M. Forster’s Howards End feel a little too predictable ... Perhaps Hardyment’s decision to focus almost exclusively on Britain is meant to highlight a fearful island’s crawl toward ever greater insularity. But I did regret the absence of Colette’s influential childhood home and Lampedusa’s great Sicilian palaces. A larger study would have done more honor to Bachelard’s wonderfully suggestive arguments about the uncommon ability of houses to haunt our fiction-making minds.
... a lively literary gazetteer to great imaginative homes ... If you like nuggets about niches and gleanings about gables, you’ll love this book ... Much of the pleasure of this book lies in through-the-keyhole gawping ... If some of the chapters feel familiar, others surprise ... This is the perfect Christmas book. Curl up beside your own Lytel Fire-place and imagine yourself among the comforts of the Shire.
Sometimes the anthropomorphizing is quite explicit...But in other instances, Hardyment’s thesis seems strained ... Ideally, the consumer of Novel Houses will have read all the books it discusses, and undoubtedly, there are many omnivorous fiction fans out there who have. A history and politics buff, I’m not one of them ... Happily, both for members of the unread masses like me and those needing their memory jogged, the essays’ synopses not only inform but spur a desire to read (or reread) the whole book being considered. Like CliffsNotes, Hardyment’s essays can either satisfy or inspire, depending on your level of ambition ... In her introduction, Hardyment declares herself 'fascinated [by] well-established' houses, the kind that become 'second skins, [defenses] against the world, nests.' Her brisk, deft writing displays that fascination, along with an obvious affection for old, eccentric houses and the people who live in and love them. Her capsule biographies of the books’ authors emphasize their relationships with domiciles — sometimes sad, sometimes lucky, often yearning — and are especially intriguing ... grammatical sticklers from both sides of the Pond will be bugged by frequent, uncertain antecedents and dangling participles that lead kings to meet themselves, characters to change sex and take action after death, and Hawthorne to perform his duties as a customs officer in an attic bedroom ... Choosing a single element of a story through which to understand it is a well-established tool of analysis and one well executed here.