The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
Author: Deborah Lawrenson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: August 9th, 2011
Source: Personal Copy
With her career at a standstill and a social life that’s far from exciting, Eve finds herself accepting a freelance opportunity in Switzerland working with advertising and promotional brochures. Looking for a little adventure, she decides to take a day trip to a maze located at Lake Geneva. Here she meets Dom, a confident and self assured older man who has made his fortune in a geo technology business. Conversation flows easily, and, after an admittedly whirlwind romance filled with trips to the theater, long nights at local cafes, and travels to Italy, Dom asks Eve to move with him to France. Eve quickly accepts, wanting to put down roots of her own, and the two begin their life at Les Genévriers.
The property drew us in immediately. Not love at first sight, exactly, not as explosive as that: more a deep, promising undertow, as if it had been waiting for us, and we for it. It was familiar, in that it was the same sensation as when Dom and I first met: recklessness muted by instant empathy, surrounded by beauty.At first everything seems fine as Dom and Eve begin repairing the crumbling house and decorating it with antiques and relics from local flea markets. Soon they start discovering many new rooms and hidden chambers filled with many objects that are dubbed “gifts from the house.” After making the choice to do without Internet or telephone, the warm summer days are spent with Eve reading and yearning to translate the authors she loves and Dom composing music on his piano. All seems perfect until one night at a party a local woman, Sabine, thinks she recognizes Dom from her past. Dom quickly dismisses the notion, and Eve accepts everything at first, but the seed of doubt has now been planted in her mind.
A secret can rot the soul. Unspoken, it seeps into the subconscious, it penetrates the body, the character of a person, until at last it takes over all reason and reasoning – until nothing is left but the secret that cannot be told and that must be kept tight inside at all costs. This is devastation, the inner waste.As the winter months descend upon the house, Dom grows more withdrawn and distant and refuses to discuss his history with Rachel. With her suspicions raised, Eve becomes so desperate to find answers to allay her fears that she overlooks the eeriest things occurring around her such as the smell of strange but alluring aromas and shadows outside her kitchen window. Unknown to the current occupants, the house has a sordid history of its own involving Bénédicte Lincel, her blind sister Marthe, and her destructive brother Pierre. As the years pass, Les Genévriers becomes the site of tragedy, heartbreak, and evil deeds that, once uncovered, could change everything Eve has ever known and trusted.
As much as this pains me to admit, I have not read Rebecca and therefore cannot comment on the claim that this is a modern retelling. There have been a lot of comparisons between Lawrenson and du Maurier’s work in promotional material for The Lantern, and the main character Eve even makes mention of the likeness. However, I will leave the comparing and contrasting of the two works to other more well read bloggers than myself.
On the surface, The Lantern has all the necessary elements for a good Gothic tale. The mysterious setting is filled with crumbling buildings, ghosts, supernatural disturbances ,and family secrets. Before I get into the more critical aspects of my review, I do want to say that I enjoyed the book and found myself quickly turning pages to see where the story would take me. This isn’t to say The Lantern is without flaws, but it does attest to the readability and the general level of enjoyment.
Moving between Eve and Dom in the present and Bénédicte’s story in the past, The Lantern is slow in the beginning but picks up as the stories unfold and come together. The writing kept me feeling appropriately scared, intrigued, etc. However, I didn’t quite buy the ‘romance’ of Eve and Dom. There wasn’t much of a connection between the two, and most of the story was spent with them carrying out different tasks in separate rooms. I think that the story might have been more powerful with a focus on Bénédicte and no romance angle at all. For me the story would have been more enjoyable with Eve being portrayed as a stronger woman who comes to Les Genévriers independent of a man.
The lengthy descriptions of setting definitely place the story firmly within the genre. Lawrenson does a nice job composing a believable, eerie rural setting in France from the buildings to the neighbors. Visualizing the characters and the action was made quite effortless for me as I read. Using a blind character as the basis for a lot of the detailed descriptions of scent was a nice touch. I think without that plot device the descriptive elements would have become too tedious.
I really wish I had read this book in October because I think it would go perfectly during the RIP Challenge. There was just enough of the supernatural to be entertaining without going over the top. As I was writing this review, I reread the first 20 or so pages and was amazed at how much more sense the beginning made the second time around. While I do think the mentions of modern technology took a little away from the Gothic feel, Lawrenson’s explorations of themes such as paranoia and lost love helped me overlook the elements that came across as slightly awkward. While The Lantern may be more enjoyable to those who have not read Rebecca, I do recommend this one for those looking for a very readable ghost story.