Title: The Lantern
Author: Deborah Lawrenson
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“Meeting Dom was the most incredible thing that had ever happened to me. When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom in Switzerland, their whirlwind relationship leads them to Les Genevriers, an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields of the South of France. Each enchanting day delivers happy discoveries: hidden chambers, secret vaults, a beautiful wrought-iron lantern. Deeply in love and surrounded by music, books, and the heady summer scents of the French countryside, Eve has never felt more alive.
But with autumn’s arrival the days begin to cool, and so, too, does Dom. Though Eve knows he bears the emotional scars of a failed marriage—one he refuses to talk about—his silence arouses suspicion and uncertainty. The more reticent Dom is to explain, the more Eve becomes obsessed with finding answers—and with unraveling the mystery of his absent, beautiful ex-wife, Rachel.
Like its owner, Les Genevriers is also changing. Bright, warm rooms have turned cold and uninviting; shadows now fall unexpectedly; and Eve senses a presence moving through the garden. Is it a ghost from the past or a manifestation of her current troubles with Dom? Can she trust Dom, or could her life be in danger?
Eve does not know that Les Genevriers has been haunted before. Benedicte Lincel, the house’s former owner, thrived as a young girl within the rich elements of the landscape: the violets hidden in the woodland, the warm wind through the almond trees. She knew the bitter taste of heartbreak and tragedy—long-buried family secrets and evil deeds that, once unearthed, will hold shocking and unexpected consequences for Eve.”
Thoughts: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson is garnering a lot of attention these days because of the many comparisons to the outstanding Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Yet, these comparisons only do The Lantern a disservice because while it is similar, it is distinct and well-written enough to more than stand on its own as a modern Gothic novel. Wisely, Ms. Lawrenson does not shy away from the comparisons. Instead, she acknowledges them by specifically mentioning du Maurier’s masterpiece, having Eve read it while surrounded by her own mysterious goings-on. It is a brilliant stroke of writing, to recognize the inevitable comparisons while not-so-subtly pointing out why the comparisons are not as accurate as one may initially perceive.
The Lantern is strong enough to stand on its own accolades, of which there are many. Told between the former mistress of Les Genevriers and its current mistress, Ms. Lawrenson deftly weaves the probable and improbable elements together. At its heart, however, is the larger than life Les Genevriers and the greater backdrop of Provence. The descriptions of the area alone are worth the read, as Ms. Lawrenson forces the reader to stop and smell the lavender as well as the roses. Provence comes alive under her descriptive narrative.
The strong writing makes up for the weaker elements of the story. Of the two narrators, Eve is definitely the weaker one, as she blusters her way into understanding the truth, falling prey to misdirection and her own inability to stick to her resolve. Her vacillating nature becomes fairly whiny towards the end of the novel, in direct contrast to Benedicte’s narration and strength of character. Unfortunately, Eve is given the louder voice of the two, and the reader must overcome any lack of sympathy towards her to get some resolution.
The Lantern is one novel that I feel would be better as an audio book than written, and reviews of the audiobook support my hypothesis. With the narrator switches every chapter, and only the most subtle of clues is given to help the reader with the switch, a reader can quickly lose track of who is speaking at any given time. The reader needs the verbal cues that accompany the audio performance, making it easier for the reader to follow along and discern which character is narrating. This would also help set the tone a bit more, as the reader can listen to the story instead of having to decipher who is speaking.
Still, The Lantern, in print, is the perfect read for this time of year. The weather is such a key element in setting the mood throughout the novel, and as the weather turns blustery throughout the United States, the reader will be drawn into the spookier elements of the story. Ms. Lawrenson excels at forcing the reader to guess the truth behind the hauntings; just when the reader thinks all is resolved, she throws another misdirection or clue into the story. The epilogue itself will leave the reader with goosebumps and a sense of appreciation for everything Ms. Lawrenson accomplished throughout the novel.
The Lantern is going to continue to be a highlight of the season because it is one of those novels that seemingly has it all – a gorgeous backdrop, shady characters with mysterious and unknown pasts, tragedy, and hauntings. While it isn’t quite as strong as the novel to which it is being compared the most, it is able to stand on its own thanks to the strength of Ms. Lawrenson’s writing and the beauty and charm of Provence that comes alive under her pen. This is the perfect read to help you get into an autumn frame of mind.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Danielle Plafsky at Harper Books for my review copy!