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The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
The author clearly took her inspiration from Du Maurier's "Rebecca". The main character even says she's been reading the novel and can see the similarities. She won't even tell us her real name, just like the second Mrs. De Winter. She and her new man, Dom, have bought an old farming hamlet in the south of France. Some say this property is haunted and according to a legend there's a hidden treasure. Dom has been married before, but he refuses to speak about his first wife Rachel. So our heroine starts to wonder what really happened to Rachel, who apparently was a very talented, charming and lovely lady. A local estate agent helps her in this investigation; she knew Rachel but hasn't been able to contact her for the past years. Our heroine starts to doubt Dom more and more, and even alludes to the Bluebeard legend. In the very first paragraphs of the novel she tells us "Until it happens to you, you don’t know how it will feel to stay with a man who has done a terrible thing." So is Dom a murderer?
Every other chapter in the book is told by someone else: Bénédicte Lincel, who lived in the same house. She tells the story of her life, growing up with her spoiled brother Pierre and her blind sister Marthe, who became a famous perfume creator in the 1950s. In her old age she is visited by the ghosts of both Pierre and Marthe. Marthe disappeared from the earth just like Rachel apparently did. Also, several female students have gone missing in the region.
So where do all these storylines lead to? Is it a ghost story, a Rebecca-rehash, a crime story about a serial killer, a love story, a travel guide? Is it fish or fowl? Considering the abundance of red herrings I'd say fish...
It's a pity the author couldn't decide on one main story to focus on. It's like she wasn't able to get to the required amount of words for a novel just by writing the Rebecca variation, and therefore added Bénédicte's story and also lots of descriptions of the Provence countryside and of the lavender industry. She had better spent more words on our heroine to make her more interesting and lovable. The same goes for Dom; there was nothing about him to like so I couldn't care less if he was a murderer or not.
The heroine made me dislike her with remarks like: "One book in particular I kept returning to at that time: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It has none of the intellectual cachet of Madame Bovary, or Anna Karenina, or Crime and Punishment, but for me, its modesty is the point".
Bashing and rehashing. Did you really think you could do better?
The prose wasn't to my liking, either, though readers who enjoy elaborate poetic wordings will probably love it. The author wasn't averse to showing off her knowledge of little used words: sybarites, avuncular, effervescence, syncopated, eponymous, synesthesia, decrepitude, susurration. Yuck.
Now about the title. I imagine that when you can't decide on where to focus your story, it will be difficult to find a title that covers all. That said, I find the author's solution very weak. The lantern refers to a lantern used by Bénédicte's lover to suggest another tryst, which they wanted to keep a secret from Bénédicte's mother. In later life Bénédicte is haunted by the mysterious appearance of this lighted lantern. Our present day heroine also is visited by this inanimate apparition. Though an interesting phenomenon, this lantern has no relevance to the story whatsoever.
I wasn't impressed by this book. I only finished because I kept hoping for an exciting twist or revelation, and because I thought I could not write a review for this forum without knowing all. I was disappointed.
My verdict: a 5 out of 10.

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