Mr Rosenblum’s List – Natasha Solomons

I had been meaning to read ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ by Natasha Solomons ever since it arrived here at Savidge Reads HQ before Christmas last year, and then made it one of my books to look out for in 2010. Then I decided to wait a while, partly to let myself calm down a little from it and also because it wasn’t coming out until the start of April and if I read it early you might not remember it if it was any good. One of the new little mottos for the new Savidge Reads is that even if I read a new book before its out you wont hear of it until after its out, make sense? Now however it seems that I am a little late to Mr Rosenblum’s party and quite a few lucky blighters have gotten there first, ha…

I know you should never judge a book by its cover but the hardback of Natasha Solomons debut is utterly delightful and it’s a good place to start because so is the book. However ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ isn’t quite the ‘utterly charming and very funny’ read that Paul Torday quotes on the cover, it’s actually that and more. Amongst the humour and charm lie some big questions and rather dark, thought provoking undertones running the whole way through the book.

Jack Rosenblum has come, along with his rather reluctant wife Sadie, to live in England in the hope of becoming a truly English Gentleman. Disembarking in Harwich in 1937 he and Sadie have come from Germany where the movement against Jews has already started although the war isn’t due to start for another two years. On arrival they are told that assimilation is the key and that they must do everything they can to become almost invisible and follow the ‘Helpful Information’ leaflet to the latter. Jack has been obsessed with England and the English since first hearing the forecast on the radio and believes that he knows exactly what you must do to become a true Gent and fit in, you must buy marmalade from Fortnum and Masons, no hand gestures must be made to show too much emotion and German simply must not be spoken.

Despite his obsession and his efforts and even starting the most successful carpet firm in the East End he still manages to get arrested and shortly imprisoned for not quite fitting in enough and that’s how he ends up briefly in the countryside which he falls in love with, and comes up with a plan involving that most British of sports… golf (if like me you aren’t a fan of golf don’t let it put you off), only he isn’t bargaining on the countryside being harder to fit in with than London.

I did enjoy Jack’s story a lot however it was actually the story of his wife Sadie that really struck a chord with me and I only wish she had been in it and explored a teeny tiny bit more. She doesn’t love England like her husband, in fact for half the book I wondered if she loved her husband at all and vice versa, and is rather baffled by it all she misses her life before no matter how hard it was. Through her runs a tale of loss and sadness (that happens to spread throughout the village when anyone smells her Baumtorte – it is in fact baking that eventually settles Sadie somewhat into village life with the other women). She is often bemused by her husband and wonders why Jack finds it so desirable to fit in and tries so hard (whilst Jack cannot understand why Sadie won’t try and, for example, get a blue rinse like all the other women) and more importantly seems to forget who he is, his culture and where he comes from. It was that particular strand of the story, to me at least, that was very much the heart of this book and what it was all about and I found that both poignant and emotive.

“Lavendar blinked, forced a tight smile and then relaxed. This was the first time Mrs Rose-in-Bloom had casually mentioned her German past. But, Lavendar supposed, it wasn’t sordid like Mrs Hinton’s younger sister whose ‘past’ had been a long haired sailor from Kentucky. Mrs Rose-in-Bloom’s past wasn’t her fault, and perhaps it was better that she spoke of it from time to time.”

I think it was Sadie’s story and Jack’s humorous try hard nature that set this book well apart from the normal stereotypical tale of strangers moving into and English village and being deemed ‘the outsiders’. It also interested me that I went from not liking Sadie to wanting the whole book to be about her, thats a rare thing with me. I do need to mention  one wonderful character though who also makes the book a  delight and that is Curtis Butterworth and his secret cider recipe. He steals the show on several occasions and is someone I would love to have as a neighbour if I ever end up in a village in the middle of the countryside. All in all this is a delightful debut, I am looking forward to more of Natasha’s work in the future and am hoping she isn’t afraid to delve that little bit deeper into the darker undertones out there because she writes humour and delight just as well as she does sorrow and hardship in the glimpses we see. 8/10

***

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Notwithstanding – Louis De Bernieres
Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys

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36 Comments

Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Natasha Solomons, Review, Sceptre Publishing

36 responses to “Mr Rosenblum’s List – Natasha Solomons

  1. This sounds like such an intriguing read – it’s definitely on my wish list and I’m envious that you got a review copy.

    PS: You perfect prose partners – are they automatically generated based on tags or are you selecting them each time?

    • It’s a delightful read Verity and I think she’s an author to watch out for in the future.

      My perfect prose partners are me selecting personally, I didn’t make that clear… oops! Thanks to you I have renamed them now. Do you think I could manage anymore alliteration? Hee, hee.

  2. Linda

    This one’s definitely on my wish list! It’s good to have the humour in such a story as well as the darker aspects.
    By the way, just found that the text on your black background lights up! That’s helping my poor eyesight! Hee! Hee!

    • I liked the mix of humour and darkness, I just wouldnt have minded a little more darkness because sad ie has a rather wonderful story and became a real star for me as the book went on.

  3. A book about the 1930s? Definitely going on my list. The times were so dark it’s nice to have a little humour.

  4. I haven’t replied to yesterday’s comments yet but, yes, I am being thoroughly charmed by this although those dark undertones are quite upsetting.

    I am delighted I have a copy. The book had been on the periphery of my consciousness (did you mention it in passing in the past when you received it?) then I read a magazine review that had me aching to read it and then the following day I received a copy in the goody bad – how serendipitous is that?! Even my boyfriend wants to read this one and our reading rarely overlaps (I think it was the Fortnum & Mason marmalade that reeled him in and I haven’t even told him about the golf yet).

    I’m all for not hearing about books until they are more readily available, although more often or not that is usually only in our country of residence, depending on the book.

    The fresh new look is something to get used to but a change is often better than a holiday! I find that not posting every day and not putting that pressure on myself makes for a healthier and more enjoyable experience. Enjoy it.

    • They are upsetting which is why the laughter and charm are so good to have in their too. I think as you read on, unless you have finished by now, Sadies story becomes more and more interesting and I just wanted to go off and read about her, maybe Natasha could write her story one day.

      I think I have mentioned this book in passing a few times, it was in my books of 2010 from debut authors and fortunately, IMHO, rightly so.

  5. Annabel

    I got this the other week and can’t wait to read it!

    I like all the little changes. With the score – I’ve always given scores, then I thought I wouldn’t and several friends begged me to put them back – it’ll be interesting to see how your scale calibrates over coming reviews! I love your perfect prose partners too – what a great idea.

    • I think there are going to probably be a lot of 6’s, 7’s and 8’s anything under five will be rare as I dont tend to review books I don’t like or don’t finish, with the latter I just dont feel I can write about it. Glad you like the partners of prose, haven’t worked out what am going to say if its unlike anything I have read before though – eek.

      Look forward to your thoughts on this in the coming weeks.

  6. This book looks great. The dark undertones make me want to pick it up even more. Btw I reviewed The Loved One today on my blog, which I read on your suggestion 🙂

  7. I’m really looking forward to this one and am so pleased that you found it delightful. It’s one of those books I’m so eager to read, I might even go out and buy it. Most shocking.

    • Oh let me know if you have been and bought it, I will look forward to eharing your thoughts on it. It’s charming, touching and occasionally saddening all at once. It’s a brilliant debut.

  8. Glad you liked this. I have it sitting in my pile right now, making my coffee table look very pretty. But for some reason, it’s just not calling to me yet, so like you, I’ll wait for the right moment to strike.

  9. Loved the cover of the book – that alone makes me want to buy it. Of course the idea of Jack’s obsession with England intrigued me as well. I remember feeling that way towards England when I was coming over for the first time to study English Lit. So, I can sort of connect with Jack to a certain extent. I’m interested to find out more and will be adding this title to my TBR list. I want to find out what those ‘dark, thought provoking undertones’ are that you mentioned. Cheers!

    • The cover is rather wonderful isn’t it. Its one of those books where you cand efinitley judge it on its cover. I think if you have a slight connection with a narrator its always a bigger hit and would imagine you would really enjoy this, well I would hope so.

  10. My copy arrived this week, looking forward to it very much.
    Love the new decor Simon!

    • I found it a really delightful read Lynne, I will be recommending this to lots and lots of people.

      Now I have gotten used to the changes I am much happier with them and on the whole everyone else seems to like them too which is good.

  11. winstonsdad

    i love the cover windmill do such great covers

  12. Nicola

    I’m in a minority apparently, as I have read this book and didn’t reckon much to it really. I was expecting something quite different I think.

    • That interests me Nicola what were you expecting from this? I have to say it wasn’t quite what I expected but better instead.

      • Nicola Smith

        I was just expecting something more charming and quaint about their integration into English life, but there was far too much about the golf course, and the writing just didn’t grab me. It’s a shame, as I really thought I would enjoy it.

  13. I’m looking forward to reading this, and will return to read your review when I have (I skipped to the end!)

    I also love the idea of doing good partner-reads at the bottom, and might nab this idea if that’s ok with you (attributing to you, naturally!)

    • I do exactly the same as you Simon. If I haven’t read a book someoen reviews but I know its soon to fall in my reading path I either completely avoid the review or ont read it and pop a comment saying I will pop back.

      I hope you enjoy this one when you get to it.

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  16. henrietta

    Simon, just wanted to thank you so much for blogging about this book. I came accross it in a bookshop and my radar remembered reading about it here. I have just finished reading it. I loved it, and feel still immersed in the valleys of Dorset and the scent of baking.

    • Oh thank you so much Henrietta, its really lovely to see that people enjoy some of the books that I have mentioned and recommended. I should have given this book higher marks actually as its one that has stayed with me a lot longer than some other books this year! Glad its stayed with you and you enjoyed it so much!

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