A couple of weeks ago my Mum called to enthuse about a new book she was reading. When she finally revealed that this new masterpiece she’d discovered was The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson I was delighted.
I became aware of Deborah initially as a blogger when her smiley face first popped up among my Google friends; a hugely exciting experience when you’ve just started out. Having a click around and acquainting myself with her marvellous blog I was doubly excited to discover that she was a published author in her own right and, even better, writing and living in a part of the world that holds a special place in my heart; a world that plays the starring role in both in her blog and in The Lantern.
Lawrenson transports us right into her world from the word go as we follow couple Eve and Dom as they make the brave move to install themselves permanently in a beautiful, tumbledown farmhouse (Les Genévriers – Juniper trees! I even learnt a new French word) in the heart of Provence, removing themselves without much difficulty from their executive lifestyles. Provence. Tick. Love story. Tick. Now, to give this tale a splash of the extra special? How about a great big mystery and a ghost story to boot? Perfect.
Eve and Dom’s first months at Les Genévriers seem oh so cosy. There was so much to connect with in this book for me; a cosy relationship where you are both more than happy to close yourselves off from the world in a happy bubble…a love of France, literature and music…a languages specialist inspired to begin writing a book of her very own… This connection I felt with the main protagonist, a woman roughly my age who craves good conversation, good wine and a good book meant that I found this an even more enjoyable portrait of Provence than the Marcel Pagnol classics.
However, this sedate existence soon begins to alter radically as Eve finds it increasingly difficult to understand the caginess of her partner towards certain aspects of his past life without her, most particularly his ex-wife Rachel, who we become more and more suspicious of as the story progresses and the mood of the tale darkens…
Wonderfully interspersed with this modern drama is the tale of Benedicte and her blind sister Marthe, young women who inhabited this very same farmhouse (and perhaps still do) in the first half of the twentieth century and whose stories will eventually collide in the most spectacular fashion with that of Eve. This change of perspective/tone every other chapter really kept things going for me and kept the story even more fresh and exciting.
It is in the striking hills, lavender fields and flora and fauna of a provençal garden where Lawrenson’s singularly sumptuous and florid prose really comes into its own. I just found myself wanting to taste/bury my nose into everything she described, even the most mundane everyday objects:
‘Bénédicte drifts through the rooms of the lower floors, into the dust of venerable scents:flecks of the lavender held in the corners of drawers; flakes of pinewood armoire; the soot of long-dead fires; and, from the present, the deep mossy aroma from cloud formations of damp above the rose-tiled floor; the sharp white smells of late-spring flowers outside.’