THE HOUSE OF ORPHANS by Helen Dunmore (2006 ) read in June 2010


We looked forward to this book as we had previously highly rated this author. However we felt that although The House of Ophans was worth reading it was disappointing.

The book is set in Finland in 1901 when the Russians have appointed a governor general and secret police, the Okharana, in order to dominate Finland. Eevie is the central character. She has been orphaned and at sixteen leaves the orphanage to become a servant to a country doctor. He is attracted to her but his neighbour and daughter soon make sure they put a stop to any love match. During her time in service we learn that Eevie is the daughter of an intellectual and politically motivated father. She is educated and is aware of possible revolution and war against the Russians. She returns to her home in Helsinki where she finds her dear friend Laurie involved with Sasha in planning revolutionary action.The story reveals love,loyalty, double agents, beliefs and disenchantment.

This book is in two sections – firstly Eevies life with the country doctor and then life in Helsinki with the potential revolutionaries. This makes for a very disjointed story. Characters and incidents are introduced and lost without obvious purpose.We found a published interview with Helen Dunmore about this book and she stated that the House of Orphans is meant to depict not simply Eevie being an orphan but is about whole societies “cut off from the parenting ideologies, culture and tradition”. This was missed by our group who either enjoyed it as a read or found it confusing and wondered if Dunmore had achieved her objective.