First I have to say thank you to Carl who sent me his copy so I could participate! Here’s the main group read post. Well, I didn’t get around to doing the first two sets of questions, but I have finished the book so I’ll participate in this last round. It’s my bookclub book and we’ll be discussing it next Saturday so I might add an addendum later.
1. Now that it’s all said and done; what did you think of the book? Did you see the ending coming?
I have to say, at some point I kind of stopped caring about the ending because it didn’t feel very suspenseful. It wasn’t surprising, it just sort of… ended. Was Bene supposed to be a ghost at the end? I think so… but it didn’t seem to matter much.
2. What do you think of the characters? Lawrenson took us on a twisty little ride there, I had trouble deciding who was good and who wasn’t for a while there! What do you think of Dom? Of Sabine? Rachel?
I thought Dom was interesting but ultimately overplayed (really? all this because he feels guilty? whatever). Sabine: crafty, probably the most interesting character. Rachel: meh. Typical. Crazy ex-wife, crazy all the way through, bizarre ending for her. I thought Eve was interesting too, but underdeveloped.
3. Pierre was such a conflicted character. In the end, do you think he killed Marthe and Annette, or did the fall to their deaths because of their blindness?
I thought it was pretty obvious that he killed them. Why else the elaborate coverup?
4. The book is being compared to Rebecca and Daphne du Maurier’s writing. Do you think the book lives up to that description?
Not really. Rebecca is such a masterful work of suspense and dread and gothic atmosphere. This book started well, but didn’t really go anywhere. I wish Rachel had been killed somehow (well, killed more dramatically or evilly) — as it was, the book just felt utterly deflated. Like Christian rock (sorry, Christian rock fans). It’s supposed to be all dark and atmospheric but in the end it’s all just a big misunderstanding with a happy ending and everything. Meh.
5. Did you have any problems with the book? Narration? Plot? The back and forth between two different characters and times?
I didn’t so much have problems with the book as I was just disappointed. I think that’s a bigger failure. I wasn’t very entertained, although it was mildly interesting. I thought the back-and-forth narration was a gimmick without any big payoff. The book would have been fine without it, with Marthe’s story told in some other way. You expect a big payoff, after all this hype and drawn-out storytelling. But I think I just felt cheated at the end. The big reveal was a big nothing, Pierre dies without any drama, Dom is forgiven (and never had anything to worry about anyway), the ghost storyline never really develops, there’s no serial killer… I feel cheated. Disappointed. It was a Red Tent book. It could have been so much better.
6. Do you think Lawrenson tied both stories together well in the end? Is there anything she could/should have done differently?
I think it totally could have been tied together better. I saw somewhere that someone was speculating that perhaps Pierre’s descendants killed the modern-day girls. That would have been something. Or Marthe was truly a ghost, trying to get closure. But no. Instead, it all felt very flat. I did not feel any drama around Benedicte’s storyline, and didn’t feel compelled to understand why she needed to stay around in her house. So she got jilted. So she had an abortion. So what?
7. One problem I had with the novel is the reliability of the narrators. Do you think any of them were telling the truth? Which ones?
Who knows. This question never occurred to me. I felt like there was supposed to be some big mystery built up, but it didn’t pan out at all. I mean, every single mysterious line she spent all this time building up, fell flat. Not even a local serial killer! Most of the girls were found safe! BORING.
Needless to say, I am disappointed with this book. There were parts that I liked — I loved the descriptions of the house, of Provence, of the perfume-making, of the old traditions. I loved Benedicte’s love story and didn’t mind that it ended badly, but wished it had somehow carried over to the rest of the novel. I know it was supposed to, with the lantern and all, but somehow it felt forced and disconnected. I liked Eve and I even liked Dom, although I think he wimped out in the end. I would have liked him better if he had turned out to be a Heathcliff, all wild and passionate and out of control. Instead, he’s just a remorseful schmuck who got played by a narcissist.
I wish this had been a different book. I wish the ghosts had been real (Bene doesn’t count because I don’t see her doing much haunting — or at least, no haunting of consequence — the lantern thing was silly). I wish there had been a real murder that Dom was running from. Or something more morally ambiguous than helping someone with assisted suicide in a Swiss hospital. I wish Eve had uncovered something truly horrible. I wish Sabine knew more than she really did. I wish the artist guy had been a serial killer. I wish the house was forever unsellable because the bloodstains would never wash out and everyone knew it was haunted.
Anyway — I guess I didn’t hate the book, but I am bitterly disappointed in it. I am going to be curious what my bookclub feels about it. I hope they aren’t too bummed by it.