Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

The narrative of The Lantern is told by two alternating voices, Eve and Bénédicte. Both stories take place at Les Genévriers (The Junipers), a decaying farmhouse in France.

American Eve and her English boyfriend Dominic met on the shores of Lake Geneva, quickly fell in love, and moved to the moldering but romantic Les Genévriers. Dom has made a fortune through a computer company that he sold just before the economic downturn. Eve is a writer trying to make a living as a translator. Once they move in together, their old lives – families, friends, jobs, countries – recede into the past and they are completely absorbed in each other.

Elderly Bénédicte is the last member of the family that owned and farmed Les Genévriers for generations. Her tale is set decades in the past, as she recounts her childhood, her troubled relationship with her brother, the remarkable life of her blind sister, and her time spent working in the lavender fields during the war.

At first, the lives of the two women don’t seem to have much in common, aside from living at Les Genévriers. However, as the book goes on, connections start to be made. Eve hears noises that cannot be explained. She encounters strong scents that seem to have no source. She sees shadowy figures and strange lights. Meanwhile, in the past, Bénédicte is visited by ghosts – her brother, her sister, and the spirits of strangers she does not recognize.

Hanging over Eve’s life is the shadow of her boyfriend’s ex-wife Rachel, whom Dom refuses to discuss. An acquaintance hints that Dom is not what he appears, and wonders where Rachel is. Eve begins to question her “perfect” relationship with Dom. It took a few chapters for the book to draw me in, but once it did I had a hard time putting it down. The characters were not especially memorable, but the language was lovely and the plot had enough original elements to keep me interested. I foresaw some of the twists at the end, but others surprised me.

The Lantern is spooky with a sinister undertone. There is some implied violence and one scene of animal abuse. Overall, however, it is a romance in the tradition of gothic fiction. The Lantern owes much to the classic novels Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, but it also reminded me of The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. If you like a romantic mystery, check out The Lantern.

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