THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE is an incredibly special book to me. It was inspired by three things: a trip that I took to Berlin, a true story about an old palace in the former East Germany and another true story about a woman who abandoned her apartment in Paris in 1940 on the eve of the Nazi invasion, leaving an un-spoilt treasure trove which was only re-discovered when she died in 2010.
All of these things left me asking questions- and with a real desire to not only find out more, but to get to some sort of truth and understanding about the past- and in order to do that, I wanted to delve beyond the facts. So- I wrote a novel.
But first, what were the facts that I had?
Let’s start with Paris. In 2010, an apartment was re-discovered in the ninth arrondissement that had been abandoned for seventy years after the owner- a ‘Madame de Florian’- fled on the eve of the Nazi invasion. There is nothing unusual about the fact that the woman never returned to Paris, but what was extraordinary, was the fact that Madame de Florian left her apartment exactly as it was in the 1890s- it was the perfect replica of a Belle Époque courtesan’s home. The apartment was finally discovered to have belonged to Mme de Florian’s grandmother, an infamous courtesan or ‘demimondaine’ who went by the name of ‘Marthe de Florian.’ Everything was still in place. The stunned executors of the estate described their experience as like stepping into ‘Sleeping Beauty’s apartment.’ What was more- a beautiful, unsigned, undocumented portrait of Marthe de Florian was found on the wall, and it turned out to be the work of the famous Belle Époque artist, Giovanni Boldini. The painting was sold at auction for 2.1 million Euros, hundreds of bloggers picked up on the story, and I wrote a novel about it- Paris Time Capsule. I wanted to write more about my character, Isabelle de Florian, in The House By The Lake.
As for the stunning old palace just out of Berlin- that also forms a big part of the setting and history in The House By The Lake. The true story behind that, is that a friend of mine’s mother grew up in the 1930s in a palace that was just out of Berlin. Her family had to flee just before the Soviet occupation in 1946. The family were the biggest landowners in Prussia. They were bankers who helped fund the Napoleonic Wars and their palace and lifestyle were just incredible. I have read my friend’s mother’s memoirs of her life, growing up in the old palace in the 1930s. But the palace fell into disrepair during the Soviet era, it remains pock marked with bullet holes and is only now just starting to be restored by its new owner. Everything that my friend’s family owned was looted- marble floors were stripped, chandeliers pulled down, priceless works of art were removed, and the butler took off with all the silver!
I went to Berlin in the winter of 2013. I was just struck by the history that is around every corner. No matter where you go, there are reminders of the Second World War and the Soviet occupation of half of that great city. Berlin is a deeply moving place to visit, and I was fortunate enough to take a tour through the old East with an ex-film maker. We started talking about what on earth would possibly cause someone to turn to Nazism, and also, how the German people dealt with the shocking fallout after the war. I delve into both questions in The House By The Lake, and my gorgeous, upright character Max finds himself having to deal with both of these problems himself.
The book is written as a dual narrative- set partly in Paris and Germany during the 1930s, and partly in 2010, when my lead character, Anna, suddenly learns that she is part of a German aristocratic family who lost everything in 1946. Her grandfather Max, who has never, ever, talked about his past, asks Anna to return to the former East Germany to retrieve something he left in the family’s palace… in 1940.
Once there, Anna becomes determined to solve the mystery surrounding her grandfather’s past and seeks to find the real answers as to why he left Germany for the US, never to return. Anna finds that all of this is linked to an abandoned apartment in Paris.
I hope you enjoy THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE. I loved writing this novel.
Are there any secret histories that you know of that intrigue you? Or you are welcome to just leave a comment about the secret histories that I have written about right here.
Thank you to Fresh Fiction for having me here today!
What is a mystery you would love to solve? Tell us and you could win a copy of THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE.
About Ella Carey
Ella Carey is a writer and Francophile who claims Paris as her second home. She has been studying French since the age of five, and she has degrees in music and English. Her debut novel, The Paris Time Capsule, has captured global attention and her second novel, The House By The Lake, was released on March 29th, 2016. She lives with her two children and a pair of Italian greyhounds in Hobart.
About THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE
Anna is content with her well-ordered life in San Francisco. But her world is turned upside down when her beloved grandfather, Max, reveals a startling secret: Anna is part of an aristocratic family who lost everything during World War II. What’s more, Max was forced to leave behind a precious item over seventy years ago in their estate in old Prussia. It’s now his ardent wish that Anna retrieve it.
Anna burns with questions as she heads for Germany: What memento could be so important to her grandfather? And why did he keep their history hidden? As she searches for answers, she finds herself drawn to Wil, a man who may hold the key to unlock the mystery. Together they discover that her family’s secrets are linked with an abandoned apartment in Paris, and these secrets go deeper than she ever imagined.
Alternating between 1930s Europe and the present, The House by the Lake illuminates the destiny of a family caught in the tumult of history.