The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne

The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne (The Dutch title is “Het Winterpaleis”, I read the book in English)

This 2009 book is by the writer of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which got a lot of attention and has also been made into a movie. That book was a children’s book about WWII.

The House of Special Purpose is a historical fiction novel for adults.  It was chosen by my RL book group for our meeting coming Friday. Otherwise, I’d probably picked it up some time anyway, but maybe not for a while.

The story starts in 1915 when Georgy, a Russian boy of 15, is employed by the Tsar as a bodyguard for his young son, Alexei. The story ends in 1981, when Georgy and his wife Zoya are elderly people living in London.

The order in which the parts of the story are told is interesting. In fact, I think this is the most interesting and novel thing about the book: One storyline is the story of Georgy, starting in 1915 and going through the next few years. This is alternated by the story of the older Georgy, but while this starts in 1981, it goes back in time, until the two stories meet not long after the first World War.

The story is not suspenseful as such, but becomes more and more interesting the closer the two time lines approach each other, as apparently, something happened that impacted on the lives of Georgy and Zoya in such a way, that even in 1981, they are worried that someone from the past will search them out.

This way of building up the story is the great strength of the novel. I also liked the fluent way the book was written, easy and pleasant to read.

I had a big problem with my belief of the story. With some of it, I thought: “Yes, I bet!” which of course made the whole story less believable. In the end I could more or less guess what was coming and again, I had to suspend belief in order to enjoy the end of the book.

But altogether, it was a pleasant, adventurous read and I’m glad I read it. I have the feeling there isn’t a lot we can say about the book during our discussion in the book group, but I’m sure most members will at least feel the book wasn’t a waste of their time.

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

10 Responses to The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne

  1. Iris says:

    I’ve been looking forward to reading this. Although I have a feeling it might disappoint after The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

    • leeswammes says:

      It’s quite a different book, so it’s hard to say whether you’ll like this. I would not read it just because you liked The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Read it if you like the reviews from others and if the book appeals to you.

  2. Nikki-ann says:

    Sounds promising and I find it quite easy to suspend belief, so this might be one I’d enjoy. 🙂

  3. Melissa says:

    Never heard of this book, sounds something that I would enjoy. Thanks for the great review, and putting this on my radar.

  4. seachanges says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment: it’s great to come across another Dutch reader – I am Dutch but live in England (have done for years). I’ll keep an eye out for your reviews. Have not read any John Boyne so cannot comment about the book. Enjoyed your review of the David Mitchel ‘Jacob de Zoet’ however! I guess I had similar concerns about the Dutch language, however, think David Mitchell is a terrific writer: never a word too many, you cannot skip!

    • leeswammes says:

      I used to live in England (for 15 years, have been back here in NL for 5 now). I loved living in UK but like it even better back here! 🙂

      Yes, Mitchell is difficult for me because I’m a quick reader and not afraid of skimming here and there. With Mitchell that’s not possible! But I loved Jacob de Zoet. Will start re-reading Cloud Atlas today.

  5. seachanges says:

    PS – I’ve added you to my blogroll

  6. leeswammes says:

    Here’s another book featuring the Romanovs, more in particular, Anastasia:

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