The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads: When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France. As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel. Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel's last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive. As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve's voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before. As the tangled skeins of the house's history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve. In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers' dark history has a chance to repeat itself.
My take: I found this book to be evocative and beautifully written. The author is telling two stories simultaneously but, if the reader is watching closely, the symbolism of the house and the happenings of the house is mirrored in the relationship of Dom and Eve. Dom and Eve begin a relationship seemingly on a whim. Dom buys an old homestead with hidden rooms, tunnels, and surprises that turn up here and there. Like their relationship, the couple take it all in stride and are delighted with the gifts of the house. On the other hand, there are still unexplored areas with walls blocking rooms. The home is also aging and plaster falls apart. There are stains that can't be removed and mysteries that can't be explained.
Meanwhile, Dom is secretive about his past and relationships with those he has been close to. There is the mystery of the former wife, Rachel. What happened to her? Where is Dom's family? Why don't the couple have close friends or, really, any friends? Any attempt "Eve" makes to ask about his past is met with Dom's completely shutting her out and retreating to his music or another hobby. And then there is the issue of the skeletal remains that show up on the property. Small detail.
Meanwhile, every other chapter is about a different character at a different time but at the same home. Benedicte is the youngest child of three, born in 1925. Her story unfolds which includes the rise and fall of farming, having tenants, her family's demise, and the appearance of ghosts. Although seemingly unrelated, both stories share many similarities as both protagonists struggle with trying to make sense of their worlds and attaching meaning to different experiences.
Ultimately, I found that I am prone to find meaning and make connections. The stories were about relationships and personal perceptions. What is real is whatever we attach meaning to. Trying to make connections where none exist is what drives conspiracy theories which is fine for some. For others, accepting experiences at face value is what they do. Although it is nice to think a person and a relationship (or a place) can be a brand new start, a clean slate with no history, each person and place is complex and have hidden rooms and surprises to be discovered which just keeps the relationship interesting.
And the ghostly apparitions? I'll let you decide.