Review: The House of Special Purpose

Title: The House of Special Purpose Image

Author: John Boyne

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: Part love story, part historical epic, part tragedy, The House of Special Purpose illuminates an empire at the end of its reign. Eighty-year-old Georgy Jachmenev is haunted by his past—a past of death, suffering, and scandal that will stay with him until the end of his days. Living in England with his beloved wife, Zoya, Georgy prepares to make one final journey back to the Russia he once knew and loved, the Russia that both destroyed and defined him. As Georgy remembers days gone by, we are transported to St. Petersburg, to the Winter Palace of the czar, in the early twentieth century—a time of change, threat, and bloody revolution. As Georgy overturns the most painful stone of all, we uncover the story of the house of special purpose.

Review: Georgy Jachmenev is the narrator of this piece of historical fiction that tells the pre-story of the Russian Revolution. Born into poverty he receives a change in circumstances once he saves the life of a Russian Grand Duke. Whisked away to St. Petersburg he begins a new life as the bodyguard and companion of the young Alexei Romanov, the heir to the Russian throne. As we all know the story of the Romanov family does not have a happy ending.

The House of Special Purpose is John Boyne’s version of what happened.

The narrative structure of the story was quite interesting. I believe the best way to describe it would be moving backwards from the present while also moving forward from the very beginning. In this way the reader is able to receive a deeper understanding of the shared past of Georgy and his wife, Zoya. We understand more of how they are in the later years of their lives as we become privy to the secrets, grief, and guilt they share. Everything accumulates to a penultimate chapter which depicts the climax of their lives — in the case of these two characters the event of the past is the moment that forges their free fall.

If you appreciate or have an interest in the final three years of the lives of the Romanovs then I recommend this book for you. I found it to be an engrossing character study and piece of historical fiction.


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