Friday, September 2, 2011

The Lantern Shines on Provence

Location, location, location is not just the mantra for real estate brokers - though I was one in a former incarnation - it is a major appeal factor for novel readers the world over. Harper Collins has been touting Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern as one of their under the radar new releases this Fall and I decided to take a chance. Full disclosure, I had to override the sacred rule of fifty, hanging in there for about 100 pages before I was hooked, but then I was - hooked, that is.

Advertised as a modern take on the Daphne duMaurier classic gothic romance Rebecca, The Lantern especially glows in its description of southern France's exquisite Luberon region where the mas Les Genevriers holds the secrets of the Lincel family. This is the area of Provence where, five years ago, Don and I huffed and puffed our way from inn to inn on bicycles through the most glorious vineyards and lavender fields you could imagine. Lawrenson's obvious love of the region exudes from every page. I could practically smell the air all over again.

In alternating chapters, a tad confusing at first until you begin to get what she's about, Ms. Lawrenson slowly unveils the past, tying it to the present, through two narrators, the original owner of Les Genevriers, Benedicte Lincel, and the current residents, Eve and Dom.

Readers learn of the multiple tragedies that befell the Lincels, the suicide of the father, the struggles of Benedicte and her mother as they tried to work the family farm with help from transient tenants, the madness of the wayward brother Pierre, and the encroaching blindness of sister Marthe, a disability that she was able to parlay into an asset in the local perfumerie using her heightened sense of smell.

Eve and Dom meet in a cafe in Switzerland. Succumbing to "love at first sight," and, against her better nature, Eve throws off her work, family and friends, to follow Dom to the mas Les Genevriers, set in the lavender fields outside Avignon, where he will write music and she will pursue her reading and writing. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? But, of course, if this is a gothic romance, we must throw in strange happenings at the mas, noises in the night, lights that come and go in the fields, odors that waft through the kitchen even when nothing is in the oven, and a mysterious neighbor bent on planting suspicion in Eve's over imaginative mind.

Their languid summer of lovemaking and exploration gives way to the autumn mistral. If you've ever seen the film Chocolat, you'll get a sense of the mystery of the winds that haunt the Provencal area as a precursor to winter's gloom. Eve, finally awakened from her reverie of infatuation, begins to question this man that she's thrown her lot in with. What happened to his first wife?  Why won't he open up about his past? And, of course, as human nature is wont to do, the more she prods, the more he dissembles.

When a messy construction project to repair the swimming pool reveals the bones of not one, but two women, Eve believes that her worst suspicions have been realized. Want to know more? It's on the shelf at your local library, downloadable, and available to purchase! Now, will someone please tell me why I was up at 4:30 this morning - on my day off - finishing this book?

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