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The Lantern    by Deborah Lawrenson order for
by Deborah Lawrenson
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Harper, 2011 (2011)
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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Two parallel story lines make this novel not only an engrossing read but also make the plot move quickly. Set in rural Provence where one of the narrators, Eve, has gone to live with her lover, Dom, a wealthy entrepreneur turned composer, this is a clever ghost story that spans two time periods.

Although they begin well, Eve and Dom's relationship becomes extremely tenuous due, in part, to Dom's reticence to share any of the details about his life with his former wife and partially because Eve feels an unsettling presence in their home, Les Genevriers.

The second of the tale's narrators, Benedicte Lincel, is a woman whose family owned the house for generations. Her story underscores a troubling and violent history that centers around a ne'er-do-well brother and an older sister who mysteriously vanished at the height of her successful career.

The house is what ostensibly binds these two women together, but as their stories emerge, especially Benedicte's, the dark secrets of the past manage to envelop both characters even though they are generations apart.

With a touch of forewarning quite early in the novel, the author lets us know that a simple decision to renovate a part of the property will ultimately hold the key to the mystery and negative aura of Les Genevriers.

'I wonder now what would have happened if we had never decided to replace the pool' writes Eve. 'With hindsight, would we have gone ahead if we had known all we would uncover, and what effect it would have?'

I also liked the way Lawrenson incorporated the book's title into the flow of the story without being heavy-handed. It is a factor in the narratives of both of the central characters and, in a way, the mysterious old lantern acts as a unifying element that brings the stories together.

Normally I am not a huge fan of ghost stories, but this particular novel is not only rich in local color and captures the beguiling sensuous appeal of the French countryside but it's also developed in such a manner that the reader willingly accepts the premise that it is constructed upon.

If this is indicative of what Deborah Lawrence can do, I hope more of this excellent English writer's work will be published on this side of the Atlantic!

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern is the first of her novels to be published in the U.S.. Let's hope more appear here soon. The publisher calls her novel a 'modern day Rebecca.' That may be so, but this beguiling book stands on its own without comparison to any other.

Two stories are told, one taking place in Provence, France after World War II. The second is situated in the same house as the first, but in the modern day.

Eve and Dom meet in Switzerland and, after a whirlwind romance, settle in a decaying property in Provence, planning to bring it up-to-date and enjoy a quiet and happy life. Eve has her writing and Dom his music to while away many pleasant hours. However, their calm is shattered when human bones are found under the floor of the old swimming pool. Questions arise about where Dom's first wife is.

Benedicte's story from the past is told from her own life history. Her brother Pierre features prominently as does her blind sister Marthe. Suicide, murder, suspense, fear and hallucinations are all woven into the two tales as Eve begins to doubt Dom too many unanswered questions.

Apart from the compelling stories, breathtaking scenes and scents take their places as very important components. Sounds of the Provence countryside emanate from the pages so beautifully that one can imagine being there. When the fragrances of the flowers and trees and herbs join the visual, the lovely scents tease your nose. Add to that, the vagaries of the Provence weather and you are not reading about it. You are experiencing it all standing beside Eve or rocking in a chair next to Benedicte, enjoying all that Provence has to offer. I thank Lawrenson for sharing.

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