The Lantern
Deborah Lawrenson
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Buy *The Lantern* by Deborah Lawrenson online

The Lantern
Deborah Lawrenson
Harper Paperbacks
400 pages
February 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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I hope that Lawrenson’s lush and exotic tale of ghostly landscapes and lavender fields in Provence won’t be her last. Unveiling a dark underbelly of evil in that glorious countryside, the author’s descriptive skills are on considerable display in this place of great beauty as Les Genevriers - the central house in the story - slumbers like a fairytale castle, "prey to forbidden explanations."

At the dark heart of the story are reports of girl students gone missing along with the slow, steady decline of a family of tenant farmers of which Benedicte Lincel is the only survivor. Resembling a madwoman, Benedicte now lives alone, doing little to stop the chronic decay as Les Genevriers slowly rots around her. She remembers in vivid color her disturbed brother, Pierre, and Marthe, her older sister, who began to go blind when she was only five years old.

Recalling her life working in the lavender fields, “the ropes of indigo a hundred shades of mauve,” Benedicte wonders what happened to Marthe who - with her prodigious sense of smell - became a renowned parfumeuse and creator of scents. Benedicte’s voice comes to symbolize this tale’s dream state, the fragile mood of tranquility fractured as "the sun flares from courtyard to garden."

As Lawrenson reveals Benedicte's phantoms and fears, her other major character - Eve - begins a romantic entanglement with handsome Dom. After meeting on the shores of Lake Geneva, they hope that Les Genevriers will represent their a dream of a life together. At first Dom’s intense self-assurance attracts her, but as the months pass, he becomes increasingly immersed in his music and books, refusing to talk about his ex-wife, Rachel, or her whereabouts.

Plagued by an overwrought imagination, Eve watches a ghost materialize in front of her. With its strange presence comes the scent: vanilla and the heart of ripe melons. This sensuous reverie that lingers only for a few minutes adds another sinister layer to the plot. Increasingly representative of the couple’s recklessness, Les Genevriers is where Dom’s quiet grief gradually eats away at his spirit, and Eve - haunted by ghosts of former lives - holds onto the desperate belief that happiness with Dom can be built upon a lie.

Lawrenson's short chapters abound with remarkable images of Provence and its surrounds. What might have become a clichéd ghost-slash-murder story in lesser hands takes on new meaning as the local villagers tell Eve and Dom the legends of buried treasure and “to watch out for the spirits.” Fragments of former lives combine, Lawrenson capturing the instant empathy of Benedicte as she searches for Marthe and Eve’s detective skills as she tries to link Rachel to the danger of her uncontrolled passion.

Amid flashes of lightning and stormy nights, The Lantern is a treat for the senses. A wild, frenzied assumption feeds into Eve’s neurosis while death steadily transforms her and Dom’s paradise. Transforming into the stuff of horror, the power of a radiant, murderous landscape adds to the specter-laden atmosphere in Lawrenson's haunting, gothic novel.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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