The agent said it had a very special atmosphere, and it had. There were so many stories about the place – you just had to take the ten-minute climb up the hill to the village, and everyone from the post office to the community hall would have a tale to tell of Les Genévriers. It had seemed the ideal spot to realise their dream life – all the things they could do, all the things that would make Les Genévriers the perfect place to be. They could be in their own private world where no one would disturb them . . .
Eve had the same emotional reaction to Les Genévriers as she had had when she first met Dom – a sort of pull, a feeling almost of coming home, of rightness. It was like the house had been waiting for them for many years, to welcome them. The relationship with Dom was certainly whirlwind; all rationality thrown out the window – and Eve’s family and friends were convinced she’d lost her mind. And of course they were right in a way, she had. In the most exciting way possible she had known she was making the right decision – throwing her lot in with this man she hardly knew. And it was the same with Les Genévriers – it was the right thing to do.
All through that first summer Les Genévriers seemed to grow. The bunch of ancient-looking keys opened doors to new rooms and hidden chambers that expanded the world they thought they already knew. And the best find was the attached stone barn. They hadn’t been able to see inside before they’d moved in due to the resistance of the substantial lock – but the judicial application of brute force had revealed a lovely light space which was ideal for Dom’s music studio. As they discovered the hidden places of Les Genévriers they also found many discarded items which they claimed as gifts from the house. A sense of history seemed to surround them as these objects were brought back into the light.
By the time August came, they were sleeping with all the windows open, which was why Eve thought the scent must be coming from outside. She became aware of it early one morning, wrapping around her, enveloping her in a complex combination that included vanilla and rose. It was a heady, voluptuous aroma, but eventually it began to cloy. Where was it coming from? Then it gradually began to fade, and was gone. Later Eve searched to find the source, eventually giving up and concluding that it must have been some sort of dream. A week later it was back, and it kept reappearing, in no particular pattern, from then on. And for some reason that she couldn’t pinpoint, it started to signify Rachel . . .
Rachel was Dom’s ex-wife – or at least Eve assumed she was his ex-wife. He’d only really told her that he had been married to her, and now he wasn’t. He hadn’t said how it had ended. Wondering what the story was started to creep into the back of Eve’s mind – pushing into her consciousness at increasingly regular intervals.
As Eve became more obsessed with Rachel’s story – she had been a journalist who no longer seemed to be published – Dom became ever more closed. Eve came into contact with Sabine who seemed to know something of the story and pointed Eve to the history of Les Genévriers which Rachel had also been looking into.
Her investigations led Eve to the story of Marthe, a blind girl who had grown up at Les Genévriers and become a leading perfume creator in Paris. Some of her family had remained at Les Genévriers for many years, but Marthe had fallen completely off the radar many years earlier.
What had happened to Marthe? And what had happened to Rachel? Was Les Genévriers not as friendly and secure as it had originally seemed?
Then a grim discovery opens all possibilities, and Eve wonders if she has made the biggest mistake of her life . . .
When my husband and I bought an atmospheric, crumbling old house in Provence, we camped on stone floors and hoped for the best. I re-read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and wondered . . . what if I had come here knowing less about the man I was with?
The Lantern explores the timeless fears of the unknown, the uncertainty when the first stages of an idyllic romance are over and real life begins, in this case Eve and Dom settling down to a life together in their new home. It’s also a novel of the senses. As well as vivid visual descriptions of the landscape, I’ve tried to evoke smells, tastes and sounds until there is an inescapable feeling, through the characters of Eve and Bénédicte, that there is also a sixth sense in play: an instinctive feeling of foreboding that cannot be explained rationally.
Several events in the novel are true. A ceiling did collapse. The mysterious perfume is real in that I smell it but never find the source. The light that flickers disconcertingly, the discovery of rooms we didn’t know were there, the making of the walnut wine, the man who composes music: none of these are invented either.
When I started writing, this book was going to be “a modern Rebecca set in Provence,” the suspenseful story of a young woman who meets an older man by chance abroad, their whirlwind romance and subsequent relationship which is unbalanced by their gothic surroundings and the shade of his first wife. It soon evolved into more than that, but the connection remains in that this is also a novel about reading and the overwrought imagination: how the sensitive bookish Eve sees parallels with Rebecca in her own life, but is never sure how much of that can be true and how much a product of her own fears.
It is a novel about spirits and ghosts, and the histories held all around us, whether in the obvious setting such as the run-down old house, or the ghosts of Eve and Dom’s own past that will not settle. Is Les Genévriers haunted, or are these psychological manifestations of uncertainties they have both brought with them?
Eve reads the Brontës too, as the autumn cools into winter. Unstated is that over all gothic novels, to a greater or lesser extent, towers Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece Jane Eyre, the classic English gothic novel of the house, the man and the first wife. And never forgetting Mr Rochester’s request of Jane (which she refuses) that they live together as man and wife in the South of France, even though they cannot be legally married… There are parallels with that story in The Lantern too, across the two time frames.
• How does the prologue set the tone of The Lantern?
• ‘I saw him take in a particularly pretty view of plants and stone set against the water but somehow remain detached. He stood still, absorbed it, and moved off. While other tourists attacked with cameras, greedily capturing the scene, imprinting themselves on its beauty, he simply looked and went on.’ What does this tell us about Dom?
• ‘In the early days of a relationship, we all pretend to be something we are not.’ Always true do you think?
• How far is The Lantern about isolation?
• ‘What is hidden or cannot be said grows more powerful.’ How far is this a theme of The Lantern?
• How does the author illustrate the blur between the living and the dead?
• ‘Change is not always visible, as the turn of the seasons is, or the natural process of ageing.’ What does this tell us about Benedicte?
• How does the author examine the many ways that one can be haunted?
• How far is The Lantern about cause and effect?
• ‘Or, if we are to talk about haunting: Is it the house or the resident that is haunted?’ What do you think?
• ‘There was almost always a simple explanation.’ Is there?
• ‘Different kinds of disappearance. Various kinds of silence.’ Is this the main theme of The Lantern?
• ‘I have heard it said that a happy childhood is a curse, because what follows can never measure up.’ Do you agree?
• What is the significance of the zoetrope?
• ‘Do photographs and memories compliment each other, or do photographs inevitably prove more dominant, ultimately taking the place of the true memory?’ What do you think?
Suggested Further Reading
The Legacy by Katherine Webb
The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
Death in the Truffle Wood by Pierre Magnan