From the blurb:
When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France. As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel. Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel’s last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive. As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve’s voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before. As the tangled skeins of the house’s history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve. In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers’ dark history has a chance to repeat itself.
Set in a crumbling farm house in Provence, France, The Lantern tells the story of the residents of two house. The present occupants, Eve and Dom, have purchased their house after a whirlwind romance, but Dom is a man with a hidden past. The previous occupants from the 1930/40s – three siblings; Benedicte, Marthe and Pierre – also have a turbulent story to tell.
Over the course of the book many secrets are revealed with devastating consequences. The novel starts and ends with a love story which is intertwined with grief and guilt and mystery, lies and deceit. The author has a wonderful way of controlling the atmosphere – swinging between heavenly, sensuous and uplifting descriptions of the tastes, scents and stunning sights of southern France that meander and inspire, and dark, evocative and intriguing descriptions of blindness, insanity, depression and despair that create a page-turning plot.
Written from the points of view of Eve and Benedicte, their individual stories illustrate how their lives and the past intertwine. Benedicte describes the story of her life through a series of reflections in her old age, triggered by visions of people from her past, such as her blind sister who was a master perfumer and her malevolent and troubled brother. Eve’s story is about her search for answers to Dom’s dark moods and why he is withdrawing from her: what is he hiding and why won’t he speak about his ex-wife? She also describes the mysterious goings-on in the house, the strange shadows and flickering lights and scents and perfumes that appear to have no source.
Some of the most interesting descriptions in this book come from the link to perfume and lavender, scents which almost lift up from the page and embrace you. In fact, because of Benedicte’s sister’s blindness and profession, smell is a very important part of this book:
… I was becoming ever more alert to the sensuous power of smell. They say that the loss of one of the senses makes the others more acute. I’d go further: it makes the sense of the people around them grow more intense, too. Not only was I smelling in the way she taught me, but I was seeing, really seeing, details on her behalf that I might never have noticed otherwise. Like an atmosphere, like a taste, it is felt and experienced, and then it is gone. You can’t record it like music or conversation or a picture. You have to smell it again, and remember.
Benedicte also gives an interesting account of her time working on a lavender farm and the medicine and perfumes made with it.
Two characters in the book are writers, and I very much enjoyed references to this which spoke to the writer in me, such as:
Where lies the line between books and life, fact or fiction? Of seeing and being seen? It was only now, when events were unfolding, that I recognized, from books rather than experience, that I truly appreciated the boundaries between reality and art.
This book is a really interesting read, with stunning descriptions and so much going on. It reminds you that people are often not as they first seem and that being able to trust another is so important. Deborah Lawrenson does an amazing job at keeping you guessing until the very end at how these two stories and the lives of these characters are going to resolve. I really identified with the two main characters, Eve and Benedicte, and was shocked by the events that unfolded as other characters revealed their true selves. But despite the turmoil and heartache, I was left satisfied by the happy ending for Eve.
A brilliant book that I struggled to put down. Just thinking about brings forth the smell of lavender…
The Lantern is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.