The Safekeep

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Pub Date May 30 2024 | Archive Date May 29 2024

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'A razor-sharp, perfectly plotted debut novel… This book is worth your time and your patience' Sunday Times

'Moving, unnerving and deeply sexy' Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING

'A house is a precious thing...'

An exhilarating tale of twisted desire, histories and homes, and the unexpected shape of revenge - for readers of Patricia Highsmith, Sarah Waters and Ian McEwan's Atonement

It's 1961 and the rural Dutch province of Overijssel is quiet. Bomb craters have been filled, buildings reconstructed, and the war is well and truly over. Living alone in her late mother's country home, Isabel's life is as it should be: led by routine and discipline. But all is upended when her brother Louis delivers his graceless new girlfriend, Eva, at Isabel's doorstep-as a guest, there to stay for the season...

Eva is Isabel's antithesis: sleeps late, wakes late, walks loudly through the house and touches things she shouldn't. In response Isabel develops a fury-fuelled obsession, and when things start disappearing around the house-a spoon, a knife, a bowl-Isabel' suspicions spiral out of control. In the sweltering peak of summer, Isabel's paranoia gives way to desire - leading to a discovery that unravels all Isabel has ever known. The war might not be well and truly over after all, and neither Eva - nor the house in which they live - are what they seem.

'Surprising, chilling, and electric' Alice Winn, bestselling author of IN MEMORIAM

'The Safekeep is a dream of a novel — mesmerizing and shockingly good... I was utterly blown away' Miranda Cowley Heller, bestselling author of THE PAPER PALACE

'An impressive debut; I already look forward to Van der Wouden’s next' Guardian

'A razor-sharp, perfectly plotted debut novel… This book is worth your time and your patience' Sunday Times

'Moving, unnerving and deeply sexy' Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of GIRL WITH A PEARL...

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ISBN 9780241652305
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 88 members

Featured Reviews

Reading this book was such a privilege. Isabel and Eva are such diverse characters with such rich history that ties in and educates so well about the real events of the time. Their romance is the house and the house is their romance. ‘There isn’t a version of me that could have looked away from you.’

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I am grateful to Yael van der Wouden, Penguin General UK, and NetGalley for this opportunity.

This is a novel that showcases miraculous depth, specifically the layers of its characters. Time and dedication has been implented by the author to ensure that every person is a specimen, peeled back to reveal the personality and the subconscious. As for the protagonist, the reader moves beyond the layers of lies, anger, and ignorance, until we see the entirety. If a reader was to think that they know everything about a character after a few chapters, they would be wrong. Furthermore, the narrative slow-burn (not just lust-wise or romance-wise) is a huge motivator: the reader needs these characters to grow, develop, and forgive, to open their minds and embrace life with their hearts, because we have seen — in the case of the protagonist especially — their apparant flaws from the beginning. We are there every step of the way, even made into complicit collaborators at times. The prose is wonderful throughout, and as emotive as it is precise; it envelopes this sense of fluidity and, perhaps, inquisitiveness. There is also perfect balance, from the emotions of the characters that never feel excessive or lacking, to the plot that never seems rushed or stagnant. Overall, the atmosphere is suspenseful to the point of addictiveness.

Upon arriving in Part 3, after the ultimate reveal, everything makes sense. The reader is thrown back from the rest of the story to witness previous events, ultimately illuminating the truth. How much did the reader “see” these characters — truly? The items within the house as symbolism, combined with the history of the building, make it as important to the plot as everyone else.

To conclude, this is a stunning novel that I highly recommend. I don't think I read anything this year that accomplishes as much as The Safekeep, let alone the year before.

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What a remarkable book.

Parachuted straight into a scene that represents conventional, conservative Dutch family life in 1961, we meet adult siblings Isabel, Hendrik and Louis for another rare, awkward restaurant dinner together. There seems little love lost between any of them. Isabel, a buttoned up, controlling woman, Hendrik, the pragmatist and Louis, a womaniser, used to pleasing himself.

The atmosphere here and throughout the book is claustrophobic. It is so carefully crafted that I found my breathing altered whilst reading as it was viscerally stifling. Into this appears Eva, Louis' latest squeeze whose currency, in the latest of Louis' girlfriends invited to these gatherings, is to be provocative and "silly".

Eva, however, develops into the catalyst for revealing hidden/shrouded depths of character, politics and history. It is no coincidence that this novel spins on these siblings being the first post-war generation from the occupied Netherlands. It is no coincidence that the sexuality the book oozes would gain traction as the 1960s progressed, but not in the here and now of this particular story.

I found it completely a completely unexpected page turner. It has an abrasion that forces readers into examining the realities of the diaspora, divergent behaviour, patriarchal society and conventions. I found the writing, by a very deft hand, compulsive.

Thank you to #NetGalley and #PenguinUK for allowing me to read for review

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This is a brooding and powerful novel.
No spoilers !
Its energy and power creeps up slowly... the first part of the story introduces Isabel who has lived in the family home alone since her mother died and in many ways has trapped herself psychologically within the walls apart from seeing her brothers- has she taken on the role of the guardian of the house - to keep it safe and her memory of her mother. The sense of isolation and suppression of living is palpable and Isabel's anger and frustration to keep herself alone and protecting the house is disturbed by her bother's request to accommodate his girlfriend Eva whilst he is away on business. Isabel's life is soon to go into free fall as sense of foreboding is broken down into something much more unexpected
This is 1960s Netherlands and the repercussions of World War II are hidden beneath the surface; ignored, deliberately forgotten but the story of Isabel and Eva brings to light the greed of humanity and the ability to block or not recognise the reality and tragedies of the war- families lost everything and others capitalised on this.
The Safekeep is the story of a house; identity , belonging and the exploration of what 'home' means in relation to love and family.
The two main characters are beautifully realised and their damaged selves emanate off the page.
The final third of the book brings to life the hidden secrets and provides the shock.. How far would we go to get something back? What does ownership mean?
Yael van der Wouden has written a superb novel that will resonate far beyond the pages. We must never forget history and how the roots of events spread deep and wide. How close do we actually look at the truth about our family's past?

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I absolutely loved this story of forbidden love and war secrets, set in the aftermath of the Second World War. Isabel lives a reclusive life in her uncle’s home. When her brother, Louis, brings his girlfriend Eva back one day, Isabel experiences a life changing moment, and the past and present collide in a truly heartbreaking and yet also hopeful way. Beautiful prose, emotionally powerful, The Safekeep is a top contender for one of the best historical novels I’ve read this year.

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This is a tender and melancholy book with visceral characters. Set against the backdrop of the end of WWII, Isabel meets Eva, introduced to her as her brothers newest fling. This story did not go the way I anticipated but being taken by surprise is the best thing, especially with a book written as beautifully as this one. I won’t go into detail, because going into this book blind is the best reading experience. But how incredibly breathtaking it is to come across a book that focuses on love and kindness, and the true meaning of a home. Such a stunning read, I will be recommending this to everyone.

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I'm a sucker for a good historical romance and boy does this deliver!

It is gripping and unexpected, I really enjoyed the writing and the characters, I loved Isabel's character and I equally enjoyed Eva's.

I will definitely be picking up a physical copy.

[Thank you Netgalley, Penguin and the author for giving me an e-arc in exhange for an honest review]

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Oh my God! This was a book that I will never be able to stop thinking about. It was devastating, beautiful and just so intriguing. You don't know what is going to happen and why there is this tension between the two women. During these devastating times, I think it's a powerful and important reminder of the horrors humans can commit. And how easy it is to turn a blind eye to it.

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The Safekeep is set in the Dutch countryside during the summer of 1961 and primarily, revolves around two women, Isabel and her brother Louis’ girlfriend, Eva, who comes to stay with her.
This really is a book that you need to read for yourself, without anybody telling you what to expect/how the story plays out.
A truly stunning read and not what I was expecting!
An absolute contender for my top 10 of this year.

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The Safekeeping really reminded me of a cross between Fingersmith and The Miniaturist, with a claustrophobic and intense setting, close lens on very few characters which you really got to imagine and be invested in. The reveal took me by surprise and it was a really moving, complex study of love and loss.

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I don't want to say too much about the plot because I think it's best to read this one without spoilers. The synopsis tells us that it's the story of Isabel, living in her family's home in the Netherlands in the 60s. Her brother introduces his girlfriend Eva to them who ends up staying with Isabel for a while. Initially, their personalities totally clash.

The book is so beautifully written and I really enjoyed getting to know the different characters throughout the story. In the last part of the story, there is a twist and it flips the novel on its head. We get to see the full, complex motivations driving the characters and it's this twist that makes the novel. I'd absolutely recommend this.

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4.5 ✨

could feel the chill coming off Isabel from all the way over here.
What a character she is, cold, rigid, stern..... so very very interesting.
This book was not what I expected at all, and I don't want to give spoilers, but there's a moment when it all turns on its head, and that moment feels perfect.
A real highlight of my recent reads.

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This felt like a very special book - the setting was vivid and the characters were complex. I was utterly riveted the whole way through.

I especially loved the dialogue, and the way the author described mannerisms - it felt incredibly real and I could picture every moment, every conversation.

I think the best way to enjoy this book is just to go in blind and let it take you where it wants to go. Don’t read too much about the synopsis, and just dive in.

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This is a book that you think is going to be one thing but it is so much more
Surprising and poignant whilst being set against the 1960s and all that the sixties brought
A house and two women
what it means to belong, be at home, find a home and feel at home.

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In rural Holland, early in the 1960s, Isabel lives in a house to which her family moved during the war. She jealously guards all her mother's things, berating her maid if tasks are left undone. Into this lonely, arid existence comes Eva, the girlfriend of Isabel's older brother who has had to go abroad for a short time, and a tense and volatile relationship develops between the two women. Isabel, who is probably neurodiverse and is definitely repressed and vulnerable, finds anybody's presence threatening, and barely tolerable. She finds the young man who is courting her repellant, and has violent feelings towards Eva. But subtly, the atmosphere changes, there is a rapprochement between the two women which develops into something intense and passionate, and the repressed Isabel experiences an awakening of which she had never dreamt. In the final section of the book, we start to understand Eva's motivation and her reactions to Isabel and her family, and in particular to the house, which holds many secrets.

I highly recommend this masterful exploration of queerness and Jewishness, and the part played by history in the formation of our characters, both with and without our knowledge. It is an uncomfortable read at times, but full of sensitivity .

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I loved this unusual book! The characters were so well written, I felt like I had known them for years! Would highly recommend to anyone who loves reading about odd family dynamics

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I adored this story of forbidden love and military secrets set in the aftermath of World military II. Isabel lives alone at her uncle's mansion. When Isabel's brother, Louis, returns his girlfriend Eva one day, she has a life-changing encounter, and the past and present clash in a really tragic but yet optimistic way. The Safekeep is one of the best historical novels I've read this year, because to its beautiful style and emotional power. This is a sweet, melancholic novel with vivid characters. Set against the backdrop of WWII's end, Isabel meets Eva, who is introduced to her as her brother's latest affair. This story did not go as planned, but being taken by surprise is the best thing, especially with a novel as beautifully written as this one. I won't go into detail because reading this book blind is the best way to enjoy it. But how amazing it is to come upon a book that emphasizes on love and kindness, as well as the actual meaning of home. This is a fantastic book that I will recommend to everyone.

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I loved this. Beautiful, atmospheric writing with a story full of twists. Exposes the devastating impact of the Holocaust in post war Europe and also has a really interesting exploration around the theme of houses and homes. The super heart wrenching queer love story was also amazingly written. This book really took me by surprise, I never knew what was around the corner. An amazing debut!

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Set in post-war 1960’s Netherlands, The Safekeeping is a novel of two extremely different women in one home which often acts as a character itself, full of history and family drama. Isabel is a cold and difficult character, when her brothers new girlfriend Eva, comes to stay with her, she is challenged by her new house guests warmth and carelessness. This is a beautifully written novel with complex and well-rounded characters, full of sensuality, reserved emotion, self-realisation, and quiet pain. A wonderful debut!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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Wow, this certainly wasn’t quite what I was expecting! The story of a house and its belongings, the people who live in it, love and relationships, being true to yourself and the secrets that are hidden away rather than admitted to.
I very much enjoyed this book: the way the characters were drawn and the peeling back of layers to reach the truths. I thought it was a great debut novel which unexpectedly took me out of my comfort zone at times and certainly threw out plenty of food for thought.
With thank to NetGalley and the publisher, Penguin General UK for an arc in exchange for a review.

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This is a fantastic novel - an intense and heady story of family, passion and ownership set in 1960s Netherlands.

When Isabel’s brother asks her to let his girlfriend stay with her in their family home while he travels abroad, a chain of events is set in motion which leads her to question the fundamentals of her life. It’s beautifully written, with a lyricism that conveys her sensual and emotional awakening as well as the claustrophobia of the life Isabel has imprisoned herself in.

Alongside this discovery of passionate love and self-awareness comes a revelation that will change the family’s stories about themselves. It reminded me of Alice Winn’s In Memoriam, as both are historical novels centred around LGBTQ+ love (though set in different periods and countries), and both are real page-turners. I was interested to see Winn mentioned in the acknowledgements and hope that this novel will enjoy similar success.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for a review copy: this was truly a pleasure to read.

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This is a beautifully written, considered, and thought provoking haunting debut from Yael van der Woudon, a piece of literary historical fiction set in 1961, a character study, an exploration of the repercussions of WW2, family, history, sexual identity, the social norms, attitudes and expectations of women and the limitations this can confer. In the peaceful rural Dutch province of post-war Overjissel, a lonely Isabel is the caretaker of the 'precious' family country home, she is nearly 30 years old, her life curtailed, the house is destined for her brother, Louis, who prefers to live in the city. Isa's other brother Hendrick has managed to escape the tentacles of the house, he resides in the city, with his French Algerian partner, Sebastian, visiting Isa in the hope of luring her into emulating a more independent life.

Isa is driven by everyday routines, tinged with paranoia as she zealously counts and obsesses over pieces of cutlery and other household items, the house maid coming under her suspicious eyes. Louis goes through women easily, but he thinks he has found the one in Eva, whom he brings home, but having to leave, he installs Eva in the house, although there is ice when it comes to how Isa feels towards her. The 2 women are distinctly different characters, there are issues of class, Eva is bold, brash and brassy in comparison to Isa, and Isa rages against how much she makes herself at home, overstepping the boundaries of politeness. However, the ice begins to melt, and fire begins to takeover in their relationship, but who exactly is Eva?

This is a slow, intensely gripping and emotive historical fiction that is hypnotic, the characters are not particularly people I liked, but so skilfully drawn that I could not help but become immersed in the captivating narrative and the key issues it raises, from the war, its consequences and the elements and details of the post-war European world and society. I have no doubt that this book will do well on publication, I can see it appealing to fans of historical fiction and a wide range of other readers too. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

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My thanks to the author and publisher for my review copy, provided through Netgalley.
Set in the Netherlands in 1961, the war is over – bomb craters have been filled and buildings rebuilt. Isabel lives alone in her late mother’s house, her two brothers living in the city, and she’s happy with her quiet life of routine and order. But this life is turned upside-down when her brother Louis brings his new girlfriend Eva to stay for the summer while he’s on a business trip. Eva couldn’t be more different to Isabel, but when Isabel starts to notice things disappearing her suspicions spiral. But hate and love aren’t too far removed, and paranoia leads to infatuation. What follows is a summer of discoveries, both good and bad.
I can’t believe this book is the author’s debut novel because I thought it was fantastic. There were wonderful twists I never saw coming, but they made complete sense when they happened. I almost wished the story could have been longer as the characters and the setting were great.
The characters in this book are really good, and there was a bit of variety despite the small cast. Isabel has some good growth over the story – she’s a little annoying at the start but gets less. Eva I think is the most complex character, and the contrast between her and Isabel drives the story forward really well. I loved Isabel’s other brother Hendrik, who lives with his partner Sebastian, and I wished they’d been in the book more as they seemed sweet. I think my one criticism was that the characters felt a little shallow at points, and could have done with a little bit more fleshing out.
Overall, I loved reading this book, and I would recommend it to fans of historical romance. Especially if you also enjoy queer romance!

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This was an intriguing read. When Louis tells his sister that his girlfriend will be staying with her while he is away, it does not go down well. Isabel is disciplined, lives by routines and hates intrusion. So when Eva arrives, Isabel hates everything about her. She is vibrant, outgoing and wants to be accepted.
As truths come to light, Isabel starts to light both women have something to fight for.
This is a great read, heartache, passion and finding love under strange circumstances.

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Set in the Dutch countryside in 1961, we meet Isabel, who lives a quiet life entirely devoted to her childhood home. Her brother Louis, who will one day inherit the house, prefers a city life and flits from girl to girl. With the arrival of his latest girlfriend Eva in the countryside, Isabel’s quiet world is turned upside down. A slow start but then filled with vivid atmosphere, eroticism, longing and desire. Written with a deep amount of care for its main characters, it becomes an unexpected page turner by the end. Thank you NetGalley and Penguin UK for the advance read.

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Love as forest fire, earthquake, tsunami and even transformation

What an extraordinary and surprising read this is. Set in 1961, primarily in a house in the Dutch countryside, which has a background hinted at, and then slowly and shockingly revealed, this features two protagonists, Isabel and Eva.

Isabel lives alone in the house, since her mother died. She is an archetype of the unmarried daughter whose horizons are minute, caring for her mother, left to do so by her two brothers. One brother, Henrik, whom she is closest to, left home quite young, for reasons which will become clear. The other, Louis, is an inveterate womaniser. On the rare occasions when the siblings meet, there is always another woman whom Louis thinks is ‘the one’ in his life. She will no doubt be as quickly abandoned because he has become obsessed with yet another, as all her previous incarnations.

Isabel, in her 30’s, has become more and more of a recluse, obsessed with the things in her house, convinced that her daily hired help is stealing things. She is frozen, possibly has had some personality disorder for some time, or maybe, just never been able to recognise her true self. She pretty well hates strangers, change, and is uncomfortable anyway in the company of others.

Dragged against her will to a meeting with Louis’ latest flame, Eva, a brash seeming young woman with peroxided hair, Isabel hates her on sight, and spitefully humiliates her. So it is particularly shocking and awful when Louis foists Eva on Isabel for a month, while he is away on work. The house and its contents, which Isabel deeply loves, has been left to Louis, not Isabel, by bequest.

So – we have the complexities of siblings, of dysfunction not just within families, but within society, cultures and history itself, as will become clear during the latter stages of the book, where Eva’s history is revealed.

And, explosively, erotically, this is also the history of an explosive relationship, where, for a multiplicity of reasons, repulsion and attraction are tangled all together.

This is quite a short book, but it is absolutely concentrated, and ties the reader up tightly within characters and narrative. Highly recommended. Highly.

It has also sent me exploring aspects of Dutch history which I didn’t know about

Finally, it has one of the longest and most excited acknowledgement sections at the end!

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