We haven’t talked books in a while, but I’ve got a great one for you this week. It’s the best novel I’ve read in recent months.
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson is set in a mysterious old farmhouse in Provence, France. And that location permeates every page, the way the sun soaks through the olive leaves and lavender fields of the south.
Rather than try to sum up the book, I’ve copied and pasted the Amazon outline to get you up to speed so we can talk substance:
Set in the lush countryside of Provence, Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern is an atmospheric modern gothic tale of love, suspicion, and murder, in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Drawn to a wealthy older man, Eve embarks on a whirlwind romance that soon offers a new life and a new home—Les Genévriers, a charming hamlet amid the fragrant lavender fields of Provence. But Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house. The more reluctant Dom is to tell her about his past, the more she is drawn to it—and to the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful ex-wife. An evocative tale of romantic and psychological suspense, The Lantern masterfully melds past and present, secrets and lies, appearances and disappearances—along with our age-old fear of the dark.
But as Lawrenson writes on the back cover endnotes, “Ultimately, though, The Lantern is a novel about the unquiet life of old houses.” And for me that sums up the essence of this book.
The narrative plays out in two parallel stories that alternate chapter by chapter, eventually converging at the end of the book. It’s perfectly paced, and each chapter left me helpless to resist turning the page to see what happens next. I ditched out on work, evaded my responsibilities and put off sleep just to read a couple more sections. And by some strange coincidence, my wine and olive consumption increased by quite a lot…
Lawrenson’s richly layered descriptions of the land, the seasons, the herbs and plants — and even the musty old rooms — are beautifully lush, but never cloying. She draws on every sense to bring those dead still summer days to life. And I was right there with Eve and Dom in winter too, shivering with cold as the mistral shook the shutters and tugged at the roof tiles.
And even beyond the engaging plot, the compelling characters and painterly descriptions, you find a wonderful collection of insights, the kind that make me dog ear a page and pull out my reader’s notebook:
“I sometimes wonder how much of our life is rooted in the imagination, in the stories we tell ourselves and others in order to make sense of what has happened along the way.”
How much of your personal narrative is true, and how much a “self-protective coating” to help you cope with your past? “Everyone has them,” Lawrenson writes, “not only the people who have survived terrible families, though clearly they will have a larger canon than most.”
This is a beautifully written book, with not a stone out of place.
I became a fan of Deborah Lawrenson’s work with Songs of Blue and Gold, in which she drew her inspiration from the life of Lawrence Durrell and his time in Corfu. The Lantern sees her in top form, weaving an even tighter tale this time around.
I couldn’t put it down. Get yourself a copy today.