Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Lantern--Deborah Lawrenson
First the good news--Deborah Lawrenson gives us a remarkable and well-written first novel. I was a little afraid upon reading the first twenty or so pages that I had stumbled into another example of borgeous writing--but it was not so. The writing is superb, beautifully balanced, well-handled. The descriptions both germane and adding to the overall effect of the book. It really is a delightful novel.
Ms. Lawrenson gives us a gothic in the fashion of Daphne DuMaurier (whose Rebecca is mentioned by name, and who is further honored by the name of our hero's first wife--Rachel). We have a house in Provence that may be haunted, a romance doomed by an impassioned first marriage and divorce, perhaps a few ghosts--although it takes a long while for this element to be resolved, a nosy neighbor constantly issuing cryptic warnings, and a serial killer in southern France. At least these are the elements on the surface. They are brought together into a confection that makes for delightful hallowe'en season reading, even if the chills are few and some of the elements perhaps a little overworked.
And in that we come to the main weakness of the novel, a weakness that should not come as any surprise given that it is a FIRST novel that we are perusing. The story elements just don't quite jell. They try to, they obviously want to, but Ms. Lawrenson has taken nearly every element of the gothic and attempts to juggle them all in a remarkable instance of literary prestidigitation. But a few of the balls do seem to either disappear in the air or drop to the floor. For example the whole plot seems to reflect Rebecca with a handful of Suspicion thrown in. Were I casting the film, Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine would be obvious candidates for the denouement. Additionally, the first wife story and her researches and the serial killer--well, let's just say that it is like trying to add fresh pineapple to your jello salad.
But you know what--it just doesn't matter. The writing is pitch perfect, beautifully done, and I'm convinced that Ms. Lawrenson is a writer to watch--perhaps the next Daphne DuMaurier or Mary Stewart--whose jewel-like phrasing and exotic locales this writing more resembles. I heartily recommend this novel to all who are looking to have a good, enjoyable, relatively undemanding read, and I look forward to Ms. Lawrenson's next book. May it arrive soon--I can't wait to see how much tighter and more controlled it will be. Ms. Lawrenson is a writer to read now and to watch in the future.