Book Review: The Lantern

August 31, 2011 

An explicit homage to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, in The Lantern Deborah Lawrenson substitutes modern day Provence for the early twentieth century English countryside of the celebrated gothic classic. And instead of a formal English manor house like Manderley, Lawrenson creates Les Genevriers, a crumbling French hamlet with hidden corners and wandering spirits.

Like Rebecca‘s unnamed narrator, the narrator in The Lantern (nicknamed Eve) falls in love with a rich but mysterious older man. Caught up in the whirlwind of their romance, Eve is at first unconcerned with Dom’s refusal to talk about his past. She allows herself to be whisked away to Provence, where she and Dom buy an old farmhouse they plan to renovate. When not buying antiques for the house, Eve spends her time writing and Dom composes music. It sounds idyllic and Lawrenson’s talent for vivid, lush imagery certainly portrays it as such:

That summer, the house and its surroundings became ours. Or, rather, his house; our life there together, a time reduced in my memory to separate images and impressions: mirabelles — the tart orange plums like incandescent bulbs strung in forest-green leaves; a zinc-topped table under a vine canopy; the budding grapes; the basket on the table, a large bowl; tomatoes ribbed and plump as harem cushions; thick sheets and lace secondhand from the market, and expensive new bedcovers that look as old as the rest; lemon sun in the morning pouring through open windows; our scent in the linen sheets. Stars, the great sweep of the Milky Way making a dome overhead. I have never seen such bright stars, before or since.

Eve’s blissful reverie starts to crumble, however, when she meets Sabine, a local woman who knew Dom’s wife, Rachel. Sabine (the French equivalent of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers but less creepy) speaks glowingly of Rachel, but not so favorably of Dom. She warns Eve that he has a violent streak and at one point had even threatened to kill his wife. Sabine also tells Eve about Rachel’s research into the long ago disappearance of a local woman, Marthe Lincel, who went blind while a child living at Les Genevriers and went on to become a celebrated perfumer in Paris. (Marthe’s story is revealed in more detail through the novel’s alternating narrative, told by her sister Benedicte.)

As bits of information concerning Dom’s shadowy past become known, Eve tries to question him but he rebuffs her repeatedly, a reaction which only serves to augment her suspicions. Meanwhile, Eve sees mysterious figures creeping around the dark recesses of the isolated farmhouse, and girls from the local surroundings start to disappear.

The first part of The Lantern suffers from some issues with pacing — heavy-handed foreshadowing is used in place of actual plot development. But the story really takes off when a body is discovered underneath the swimming pool at Les Genevriers. The police become involved, and Eve can no longer deny that Dom’s past must finally come to light. ¬†All is revealed when the police investigation forces the couple into exile in Cassis. (Lawrenson’s spectacular descriptions of the rocky coastline surrounding Marseille had me planning my next vacation here!)

While Lawrenson’s gothic French ghost story is an interesting twist on Rebecca, I was left feeling that her goal of modernizing the story was not fully realized. The narrator’s singular devotion to her older husband in Rebecca can be explained, in large part, not only by her age but also by her class and generation (as can Jane Eyre’s similar fealty to Rochester). Eve, on the other hand, suffers from no such infirmities — she is a modern woman with a job and a sexual history. That she chooses to turn the other way for so long from Dom’s questionable history can only be the result of her deeper psychology; alas, that aspect of her character is never really explored.

For more about The Lantern and the real life French farmhouse that was her inspiration, check out Lawrenson’s website.

To read other bloggers’ reviews of The Lantern, stop by TLC Book Tours’ website.

Disclosure: Copies of The Lantern and Rebecca were provided to me by the publisher.

2 Responses to “Book Review: The Lantern”

  1. Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours Says:
    August 31st, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy this one as much as you could have, but I appreciate you sharing your thought for the tour.

  2. Cassandra Says:
    August 31st, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I’ve not read Rebecca, but I actually kind of want to, now. I’ve wondered about this book, and I’ve heard good things about the audio, so I may give it a try. I appreciate the warning on the foreshadowing. Maybe it won’t be so noticeable in the audio. Easier to concentrate on the story without paying so much attention to the flaws.