Handsome, wealthy older boy meets bookish girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl spend summer in the lush lavender-covered hills of Provence. Fall comes, cooling the temperatures both of the weather and of boy. And so goes the story of The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson.
Boy is Dom, a writer of music. Girl, called Eve by Dom, is a translator who loves to read. Their home in Provence is called Les Genevriers, which means the Junipers, a misnomer in the mind of Eve – “. . . there is only one low-spreading juniper, hardly noble enough to warrant such recognition. There is probably a story behind that, too.” Les Genevriers, referred to throughout the book as a hamlet, formerly the family home of the Lincels for many years in the past, is old and in need of much repair – but all the same full of rich antiques and secret rooms with all sorts of hidden treasures. Eve revels in the house.
“Living there, waking up to it each morning, I felt as if life – my real life, that was, the life that I had always been hoping to have – had truly begun. I was happy, exhilarated even.”
But with the fall, the home becomes cold, along with Dom, who increasingly avoids Eve and her questions about Rachel, his first wife, who is no longer his wife and has disappeared. He turns to his music – leaving Eve with more questions than answers and a sense of foreboding. There are other disappearances as well. Then, when a crack is found in the swimming pool and it is excavated for a new pool, a terrible discovery is made and that, along with Eve’s slow growing fear that the home is haunted, has Eve in fear for her life.
The Lantern is also a story of the past – the story of Benedicte Lincel, who grew up at Les Genevriers and is fiercely faithful to it, even as her brother threatens to destroy it all. The book alternates between Benedicte’s story of her childhood and coming of age. The two stories do come together with haunting parallels of imagined ghosts and family secrets revealed.
This is a serious book full of fabulous prose and the most lavish of descriptions:
“That time is 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 of on the table, a large bowl; tomatoes ribbed and plump as harem cushions; thick sheets and lace second hand 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.”
“By mid-June, great, white candelabras of blossom opened on the catalpa tree, and waved with acid-green leaves like flays against the clean, new blue sky to mark the return of the long, hot months. Mulberries dripped from a soaring tree by the sheepfold into an obscene river of plenty. Arielle and I would cram the fruit into our mouths, letting the watery sweetness burst on our lips and tongues and stain our faces and hands purple. The plum trees and olives on the terraces below the main house were loud with birdsong, drowning out the first feeble cheeps from the cicadas.”
“As the summer faded, we found an approximation of peace. The walking helped, sometimes with Dom, more often not. Between the tumbling slopes and steep, pine-bristled ravines, the sea was a constant companion. Its dazzle lifted the letters off the pages of my walking guide until I could see precisely how each black mark was stamped on the soft paper.”
But it also makes such great observations about living:
“That day at the lake, I could have taken a different turn on those labyrinth paths and we would have never met . . . But you can’t think like that. It is what it is. Either walk on, or accept.”
“All of which is to show how dangerous it is to assume connections where there are none, to link events that have no link, to want tidy storytelling when real life is not like that, to draw too much on the imagination when it is often misleading.”
Once I got the story – the rapid switch from present to past to present again – I truly enjoyed this book. It is a sweeping story (I have never used that description before) and one well worth reading.
Harper Collins provided a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
What are you reading and where are you going?