Burning Down the House – Jane Mendelsohn

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Burning Down the House – Jane MendelsohnBurning Down the House by Jane Mendelsohn
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 15, 2016
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Psychological, Sagas
Pages: 304
Format: Kindle
Source: Edelweiss
Buy on Amazon

"It begins with a child . . ." So opens Jane Mendelsohn's powerful, riveting new novel. A classic family tale colliding with the twenty-first century, Burning Down the House tells the story of two girls. Neva, from the mountains of Russia, was sold into the sex trade at the age of ten; Poppy is the adopted daughter of Steve, the patriarch of a successful New York real estate clan, the Zanes. She is his sister's orphaned child. One of these young women will unwittingly help bring down this grand household with the inexorability of Greek tragedy, and the other will summon everything she's learned and all her strength to try to save its members from themselves. 
In cinematic, dazzlingly described scenes, we enter the lavish universe of the Zane family, from a wedding in an English manor house to the trans-global world of luxury hotels and restaurants--from New York to Rome, Istanbul to Laos. As we meet them all--Steve's second wife, his children from his first marriage, the twins from the second, their friends and household staff--we enter with visceral immediacy an emotional world filled with a dynamic family's loves, jealousies, and yearnings. In lush, exact prose, Mendelsohn transforms their private stories into a panoramic drama about a family's struggles to face the challenges of internal rivalry, a tragic love, and a shifting empire. Set against the backdrop of financial crisis, globalization, and human trafficking, the novel finds inextricable connections between the personal and the political.
Dramatic, compassionate, and psychologically complex, Burning Down the House is both wrenching and unputdownable, an unforgettable portrayal of a single family caught up in the earthquake that is our contemporary world.

wordsyousaygif Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. Not at all for me. Burning Down the House was a study of a pretentious, narcissistic and pretty much just awful family. I was expecting a moving drama in the style of The Color of Our Sky, but instead got a different version of the spoiled group in Everybody Rise. For example this – “…swept past like some well-appointed band of itinerant jugglers or magicians, circus performers impersonating aristocrats. An understatedly luxurious scarf of ostrich feathers trailed behind Poppy, a plume of smoke from her neck.” And this – “But his narcissism is a part of him that he has not yet had to examine or tackle or renounce and so in his personal life he is very often destructive. He is not, at least, as destructive as some people. He knows that, takes some remote comfort in it. ” Horrible people being horrible to each other was the entire theme of the book.

There was one character that I enjoyed in the beginning and again in the end, Neva, the Russian nanny was a force and if her story was more prominent, or the other characters more like her, Burning Down the House could have been amazing. Instead I read a book about a family destined to implode while they treated themselves and others as expendable. I also did not really get the thriller aspect. Yes, there were things that happened, and an issue to solve, but thriller status it did not reach. The descriptions also made me frustrated. Sentences such as “Steve’s face was blank. A blinding blankness like an overcast sky on a March day in the Northeast when there is no sun and no birds and a dead stillness that crushes all hope.” and “Like a great ponderous mastodon he lumbered down the hallway toward the vast kitchen…”  abounded. I get it, you have a thesaurus, but most of the time simple is much more effective.

Jane Mendelsohn can write and she did have small moments and phrases sprinkled throughout that kept me reading, hoping for more. I think others may love this style, but it is just not for me. I want an honest story that is clean and crisp and characters I can feel with. Burning Down the House was not that at all. Stripped down and without all of the over description I think I would have loved this, but I just could not get past the characters to meld with the story.

Favorite lines – Poppy is self-destructive. The last thing she attempts to do is to truly hurt anyone other than herself. As she walks away Ian sees her, for an instant, in all her fierce, stunningly pretty, self-destructive glory. He sees her and for a brief flickering moment comprehends her in a way that he does not comprehend himself.

Biggest cliché – I am very wealthy, so no harm shall come to me.

 Have you read Burning Down the House, or added it to your TBR?

Rating Report
Overall: two-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • 2016 New Release Challenge
  • Mount TBR Reading Challenge
  • Netgalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge
  • The Goodreads Challenge

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Posted March 10, 2016 by Laura in Reviews / 2 Comments

2 responses to “Burning Down the House – Jane Mendelsohn