The Lantern / Deborah Lawrenson
New York: HarperCollins, 2011.
There is a group read of this going on next month as part of the RIP VI challenge, but I couldn't wait until then...partly because I made the mistake of "just looking in to it" and also because there are holds at the library and I only have it for a limited time ;)
So my review will not have many spoilers, for all of you who are planning to group read. But I will say I'm glad I read Rebecca first, for there are many nods to that tale in The Lantern. An absent first wife whose presence overshadows this new marriage, a husband who is very tight-lipped about his first relationship, and a big old house where they are isolated from their friends & families...but there's more to this one as well. Including a marvellous setting in the south of France, in a house which has a long history before the arrival of our two characters.
Les Genévriers was the home of a family named Lincel; we hear youngest daughter Bénédicte's recounting of what happened there over her lifetime. Her eldest sister Marthe was blind and became a famous perfumier. So there is much description of the sights (Benedicte) and smells (Marthe) of the landscape, and a sense of creepiness in the phantom scents that reappear to our modern characters. There's a menacing sociopath of a brother, Pierre, who terrorized his younger sister for most of her childhood.
There is also the lantern that appears, lit, on the path at night in both past and present. It's a symbol of the doomed love affairs which populate the book. The setting, the house itself, is a large part of the story and I loved it. Mysterious affairs surround them -- missing girls in past and present, a neighbour suspicious of Dom, an exwife whose personality is hard to grasp, ghostly presences, and a whirlwind relationship that is easily unbalanced by rumour and uncertainty.
The book began a bit slowly for me, but soon I was drawn in to both stories, the Lincel's history and Dom and Eve's modern experience of Les Genévriers. The French setting, the unusual story of perfumery, Dom's musical career, and Eve's work as a translator were all very appealing. And after all, how could I resist a book with this passage, right near the beginning, when Eve first meets Dom:
"What about you -- what do you like to do best of all?"
"I love to read."
"What kind of reading?"
Sometimes you can tell all you need to know about a person just in the way they ask the question: politely, or with genuine curiosity, denoting a fine understanding of all it might reveal -- from a rich inner life to a point of compatibility between strangers. It was also a hard question to answer, its simplicity as lethal as a narrow blade.
It was a good read even if, as Chrisbookarama mentioned in her review of The Lantern, it sometimes felt like the constant references to Rebecca were like "hitting someone over the head with the obvious stick". It is quite clear in many of the author's choices -- the name of Dom's exwife is Rachel, Eve reads Rebecca when she's stressed out, post-event finds Dom and Eve at a small French hotel alone together, etc. etc. But, there are still many differences that make this book Lawrenson's own, and a very enjoyable one too. I loved the descriptions of the landscapes, and the scents and colours that seem to permeate the story. I also loved the ghostly elements that add some spooky intrigue. This was a perfect choice for an autumnal read.