Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Review: The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

This book was a struggle for me.  Not in terms of reading but in terms of actually finishing.  I was already last posting and then I accidently left the book on the porch unsupervised while the puppies were outside.  It only took about two seconds and the entire thing was destroyed.

Me, trying to pry the cover out of Chief's mouth.

Pieces of book throughout the backyard

Proud of their work, aren't they?  Of course, the part of the book I had already read was the only part still intact.  The last 150 or so pages are still blowing around my backyard.  Luckily, the book was available on Nook, so I was able to get back on track and get it finished.

 The Lantern is told in two parts.  The first is that of a modern woman, Eve, has a whirlwind romance with an older man and finds herself quickly living wiht him in South France, restoring an abandoned house called Les Genevriers  The second part takes us back in time to a girl named Benedicte who was haunted by Les Genevries years ago.  It's dark and gothic and has the whole "is the house haunted or no?" vibe going on.  It's also very reminiscent of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  Dom, who Eve falls in love with, has been married before and has dark moods and refuses to speak of his first wife, who also may or may not be haunting Eve.

I went through phases with the writing in this one.  I wanted to like it, but it was so heavy-handed.  Instead of coming across as evocative of setting, it came across as an author trying really really hard to be literary and set a very specific tone.  It's true that I want that tone and setting to come across in a gothic novel, but I don't want to think "Oh the author is setting a tone right here."  It was too overt and instead of making me feel like I was in Provence, I felt like the author was trying to make me feel like I was in Provence. 

I also never really liked or cared about some of the main characters - specifically Eve and Benedicte.  Eve was so very needy and spineless - her refusal to leave Dom baffled me.  It worked in Rebecca because of the time period and setting, but it didn't work for me in a modern day setting where the main character was willingly isolated and had opportunities to get help and refused because she was embarassed.  I also thought that given what we knew of Benedicte in the beginning of the story, she should not have been as dense as she turned out to be.  I can't say more without giving away a plot twist, but I didn't feel like she was very consistent, particularly in regards to her intelligence.  I did like Dom a lot.  I thought his character was the most nuanced and believable - I wish we got to see more of him in the book.

My final critique of the writing is that the ending was anticlimactic.  In and of itself, it was a good ending, but I think it could have been written better.  It was a ton of tense build up and then the big reveal just kind of fell flat for me in the way it was presented. 

Entertainment Value
Ok this is where the other phase of my reading experience came in.  I liked the book.  Blogging has made me more critical of writing and technique, but I still love a good story and this was a good story.  I was appropriately intrigued, scared, and curious about the secrets of Les Genevriers.  I had problems with the ending, with the description and setting, and with some of the characters, but I was into the story.  It took me a while to get there, but once I realy got into it I had a hard time putting it down.  I think the author did a great job of keeping suspence about whether or not the house was truly haunted.  And there were several edge of my seat moments (just not at the climax, unfortunately). 

I think the idea for the story was great, I think the plot was well done, I think the setting was obviously well researched...I just think there were some writing issues that kept me from fully committing myself to it.  I've found that the longer I blog, the more I find myself letting writing issues keep me from immersing myself in a story and this happened several times throughout the book.

Overall, I think it's a pretty good book, if you're going for story and not style.  I think readers who aren't into the whole gothic thing and who are turned off by lots of description will probably not find themselves able to get to the meat of the story because of the slowness of the beginning.  However, if you ARE into gothic writing this is a decent read.  It was worth the money I spent buying it on my Nook and I'm glad I finished it. 

One more note: It is very possible that my lack of interest in the setting is a result of being unfamiliar with the setting.  I've never been to France and so the long drawn out descriptions of being in France and the nostalgia that I think the author was going for just didn't translate well to me.  On the other hand, I recently read The Little Friend, which is set in the small town South and also has lots of description, and I fully appreciated it because I could so identify with it.  I think a good author can make you feel like you've been to a place you've never been before, but I also think it's easier as a reader to appreciate somewhere you do feel that sense of nostalgia for than a place you've never been.


  1. This was particularly interesting to me: "Eve was so very needy and spineless - her refusal to leave Dom baffled me. It worked in Rebecca because of the time period and setting, but it didn't work for me in a modern day setting where the main character was willingly isolated and had opportunities to get help and refused because she was embarassed." I've found myself expecting different things of characters depending on the time period they're living in. Whether that's fair or not, I don't know, but I definitely do it!

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. Oh no! At least you were able to finish the book. I have this one waiting for me in my TBR queue.

  3. If I'm thinking of the right book here, I think I've seen this one compared to Kate Morton's novels... something about the Gothic setting and mysterious plot? What do you think about this comparison? Just wondering because I really love her books, and I remember you loved The Distant Hours.