Date Published: February 28, 2012
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Mystery
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book Summary: When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to Les Genévriers, an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields of the south of France. Deeply in love and surrounded by music, books, and the heady summer scents of the French countryside, Eve has never felt more alive. But as verdant summer fades to golden autumn, the grand house’s strange and troubling mysteries begin to unfold—and Eve now must uncover its every secret . . . before dark history can repeat itself.
My Thoughts: The Lantern is promoted as being similar to or in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. This immediately piqued my iinterest in the book since Rebecca is a favorite book of mine. =Once I had The Lantern in my hands, ready to read it, I became nervous. I was concerned my expectations for this book were too high. I worried I’d doomed The Lantern to failure in my own eyes even before reading it. A few chapters into The lantern and my fears were erased. Deborah Lawrenson has written a beautiful, absorbing gothic ghost story and romance that pays a loving tribute to Rebecca but stands on its own as a fantastic book.
The book summary above details only one story in The Lantern but there are two. The book opens with Eve and Dom’s story but the second chapter and every other chapter thereafter tells the story of Bénédicte who grew up with her family at Les Genévriers during WW II and lived there until the 1970s. When Bénédicte’s family: dad and mom, beautiful and talented sister Marthe and frightening, evil brother Pierre, lived at Les Genévriers it was a farm with acres and acres of land inhabited by tenants of the farm. Bénédicte tells the tragic story of her family, revealing long held secrets and the mysteries that remained unsolved in her lifetime.
I was instantly magnetized by Eve’s story about her whirlwind romance with Dom after they met in Switzerland and how they eventually settled at Les Genévriers in the south of France. It took me a little longer to get into Bénédicte’s story. At first, I was almost annoyed when one chapter ended and I had to switch to her story. I felt this way, not because I didn’t care for Bénédicte, but rather because I was caught up in Eve’s story which moved almost as quickly as her romance with Dom in Part I of this book But I was as absorbed in Bénédicte’s story by chapter 10. The two stories seemed separate at first then I realized they were linked in subtle but important ways. Bénédicte and Eve share similar characteristics and personalities. When I realized this I began to really enjoy the back and forth of the stories.
Bénédicte is elderly and looks back on her life as she tells us about her life. Les Genévriers is in a sad state of disrepair by now. Bénédicte talks of ghostly images, visions and about of strange sounds and sights that haunted her, giving her story and Les Genévriers a wonderfully chilling, haunting atmosphere. This is contrasted by dynamic, picturesque descriptions of the land, the trees, flowers and the mountains surrounding Les Genévriers. Lawrenson’s descriptions are vivid and lush lifting Les Genévriers off the page and bringing it to life. I felt as if I could see and smell the flowering lavender plants Bénédicte describes at length. Similarly, I got chills when she describes being outside in the dark night seeing strange images, hearing unexpected sounds. It felt so real.
Lawrenson brilliantly brings Les Genévriers and Eve and Dom together after the house has been abandoned and deserted for many years, linking the two stories. I thought it was fascinating that, as the stories progress, we know things about Les Genévriers from Bénédicte that are not known by Eve and Dom. I was curious to see how Eve finds the house and grounds, wondering if she will see ghostly images or hear haunting sounds. As they move in and set about repairing and restoring Les Genévriers they’re in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. Eve is content and happy, little bothers or upsets her. The descriptions of the house and grounds are rich, colorful and vivid. When not working on the house or the grounds, Eve and Dom’s life is about literature, music and research. It’s an idyllic existence. Until things change.
The south of France, beautiful in the warm months is cold, harsh and unfriendly in the winter months. With the change in the weather, Eve feels and sees changes in Dom. He becomes withdrawn, reserved and almost morose at times. She feels closed off from him, kept at a distance. This makes Eve suspicious of Dom. She questions whether she really knows him at all. Eve, naive and trusting is insecure as the younger woman in her relationship. She’s desperately in love with Dom and their life and fears ruining the relationship so she treads carefully around him. She knows little of his life prior to her and doesn’t question his desire for them to be alone. Eve misses her friends and family but kowtows to Dom’s wishes. Lawrenson doesn’t provide an extensive background of Eve’s life but she creates a woman we can relate to, understand and empathize with. Dom remains a mystery. I didn’t want to see him as a bad guy, maybe because there’s a truly bad guy in The Lantern, but Eve’s suspicions impacted me and I became concerned for her safety. I hoped that Eve would get up the nerve to find the answers to her questions and discover Dom‘s secrets.
When Les Genévriers was Bénédicte’s family home, also living there was a contemptuous individual, her brother, Pierre. A nasty, unkind boy who grew to be purely evil, he manipulated people but also knew when to turn on the charm.. Lawrenson so effectively creates a character with the traits of a sociopath that I was actually afraid for Bénédicte in several scenes. She’s kind, thoughtful, giving, almost unable to be mean and hence, she’s reluctant to believe that Pierre is evil. The day comes when Bénédicte can no longer deny it. I sympathized with her frustration that no one else in her family saw Pierre for who he really was. He had them all hood-winked. As the stories progressed, I wondered how much my knowledge of Pierre might be coloring my view of Dom as Eve’s suspicions and distrust grow. I thought this was a fascinating aspect of the story.
Eve begins to see unexplainable ghostly images and experiences strange occurrences at Les Genévriers around this time. She also hears things she cannot explain and feels uneasy in some of Les Genévrier’s rooms. The separate stories become much closer as one begins to inform the other. The ghostly gothic imagery in Bénédicte’s world finds it’s way to Eve. Both women see a lit lantern, for instance, along a path on the grounds late at night. They have no idea how it got there. Bénédicte and Eve are haunted by loss. Bénédicte relays the mysterious disappearance of her sister in the midst of a flourishing career. Eve has becomes obsessed by the unexplainable disappearance, several years ago, of Dom’s ex-wife, Rachel, whom he refuses to talk about. Questions about the women plague Bénédicte and Eve in their lives. Eve decides to research Les Genévriers and discovers the story of Bénédicte’s sister, Marthe and a connection to Dom’s ex-wife which increases her suspicions.
Lawrenson has written an absorbing story about two fascinating women and their intriguing lives that are both linked to an amazing home, Les Genévriers and riveting mysteries. Add in gothic elements and vivid imagery, interesting characters, several with their own captivating side stories, and a little bit romance and you have a mesmerizing book that’s difficult to put down once you start reading it. If this review is somewhat confusing, I’m sorry about that. I wanted to give you a taste for this wonderful book without giving away the best parts of it. The Lantern is a book that sucks you in, causing you to forget the world around you, and transports you to the south of France, an abundantly lush landscape and the haunting, beautiful world of Les Genévriers. I highly recommend this book.
See Deborah Lawrenson's Website, Blog and Facebook page
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Lantern and to Harper Paperbacks for a copy of this book.