Sunday, July 24, 2011

Examining Personal History and Family Unravellings - Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern

I confess....I was a bit ambivalent as I began reading Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern (via an advance copy from Harper).  My previous journey into a novel marked as gothic had not gone well.  It isn't fair to place that weight on a book, or a genre, but I like to admit my biases.  In this case, the admission probably gives more weight to the fact that I ended up quite enjoying this book and giving it 4 (of 5) stars.

The story is set in Southern France and alternates between two women residing in the same home, a present-day narrator who is referred to as Eve by her new boyfriend with whom she's just relocated and an older woman reflecting on her life at the estate that had long been in her family.  I do enjoy dual narrator tales generally and appreciated that it wasn't difficult to keep them distinct in my head.  The modern-day narrator jumped in fast with her fellow and is left wondering what she really knows about him when he clams up about his past and his former wife.  The second narrator tells of her family's difficulties and watching the family and the home fall into disrepair.  The stories do eventually weave together in a way that felt more satisfying that I would expect since I tend to dislike such "neat" endings.

The prose is lovely and definitely makes the reader want to journey to the region.  I didn't find it too arty or pretentious, just well-crafted and chosen.  There are hints of the supernatural throughout (which I guess gives it the Gothic label) but they aren't too overwhelming, something I disliked in my prior attempt at the genre.  It felt more akin to what I call "literary mysteries" like The Thirteenth Tale and The Forgotten Garden, more about uncovering the past and considering how it impacted the present with the ghosts both figurative and literal than about creaky doors and evil spirits.  Recommended to folks who like novels that explore family, personal history, and character.

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