Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE LANTERN by Deborah Lawrenson

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

THE LANTERN was one of my most highly anticipated books this year.  When I heard Lawrenson being compared to Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield, I couldn't wait to get my hands on her book.  I should have remembered all those books I have read recently that claim to be "the next Stieg Larsson." 

THE LANTERN claims to be a modern gothic tale set in Provence.  Eve falls in love with Dom when she meets him by chance touring a garden in Switzerland. After a whirlwind romance, the two relocate to an abandoned house called  Les Genevriers in the South of France. They set about restoring their new home in a manner reminiscent of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN as they enjoy exploring all the nooks and crannies and hidden chambers. Their new home is rich with history.  As their enchanted Summer draws to a close and Fall sets in, Eve notices a change in Dom. He becomes more withdrawn and secretive and she begins to have doubts about him.  She knows he has a painful failed marriage in his past but he will not talk about it.  His refusal to reveal any information about his ex-wife Rachel makes Eve obsessed to find out more. She starts investigating his past and becomes more and more concerned with what she finds.  When a mysterious lantern starts showing up on the property, Eve begins to think the house is haunted.

The other half of the novel is the story of Benedicte Lincel who grew up in Les Genevriers and believed the house to be haunted by her family.  Benedicte is plagued by difficult memories and family secrets.  Her brother was a brutal and cruel person. Her blind sister, Marthe, became a famous perfume-maker but inexplicably broke off contact with Benedicte in her late forties.  Benedicte is left alone in her decrepit childhood home with her ghosts and her memories.

Lawrenson moves back and forth between the two stories slowly revealing hidden truths and secrets.  As Eve slowly uncovers clues about Dom's past, the two storylines begin to intertwine.  Long-held secrets of the past could provide clues to the truth about the present.

I have to admit I was really disappointed with this book.  I think Lawrenson does a superb job with setting.  This book made me want to run off to Provence.  Her description of Les Genevriers was wonderful.  However, the story felt forced.  It was a little too heavy-handed.  I wish she had chosen to concentrate solely on the story of Benedicte and left out the Eve storyline altogether.  Having two storylines was an attempt to create drama and intrigue and it didn't work.  I think the secrets that Lawrenson reveals are clever but they do nothing to move the modern-day plot forward.  The significance of the lantern even got lost in the shuffle and it's the title of the book! 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. In spite of its flaws, the book is still a pretty good read.  It was just something of a disappointment. There is so much unfulfilled potential here!

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