I’d read two of Tremain’s books prior to this one and enjoyed them so I nominated this for the Bookgroup List November selection and it got chosen. Afterwards I didn’t know if I was happy about that decision or not but I had to go ahead – I’m really glad I did.
I started listening only but got a bit confused so I downloaded the Kindle book and started over. 🙂
The book opens with a kind of prologue in which Mélodie, a young girl who is unhappy about her family’s relocation to an old house in rural France, is getting ready to dive into a mountain pool when she …
“…sees something which shouldn’t be there. At first look, she doesn’t recognise what it is. She has to look agian. She has to stare. Then she starts screaming.”
Then the main story begins with the aging Antony Verey alone in life and in his London antique shop thinking about his future when he sees a black string hanging from the face of an ominous old woman painted into the corner of a Audobon pastorial tapestry.
Anthony is one of five main characters in the story, all in their late 50s to mid-60s, with 4 living in the Cévennes region of south central France and Anthony thinking of buying a place there. The characters are:
** Audrun Lunel who lives in an ugly bungalow on her part of an estate inherited from her father. This upsets her brother Aramon who wants to sell his property because Audrun’s little house spoils the view from his place. She does not want to – cannot actually – leave the land but she wants to be free of her past. Audrun seems to be not quite well mentally – gets “confused” and takes prescription pills for “episodes.”
**Aramon Lunel, the estranged brother of Audrun, lives in the run down farm place, Mas Lunel, where they grew up. He’s in deteriorating shape himself – a confused and aging alcoholic. Now he wants to sell his property, but Audrun’s bungalow is ugly and in the way of the view. He and their father tortured Audrun physically and emotionally when they were young. He desperately misses his father. He obliterates the past with his drinking.
** Veronica Verey – a semi-retired English garden designer and writer – lives on a small farm near another town in the general area. Experimenting on “gardening without water.” She can’t and doesn’t really want to let go of her past regarding the protection of her brother.
*Kitty Meadows – a mediocre watercolorist – Veronica’s lover, wants to illustrate Veronica’s new book. Despises and is jealous of Veronica’s brother, Anthony. She really, really wants to move on from her past.
**Anthony Verey – Veronica’s very pretentious brother, a gay London antiques dealer who wants to retire. He also pays for the services of very young boys. But he goes to stay with Veronica and Kitty, upsetting their balance – trespassing. Kitty is especially jealous of the relationship between Anthony and Veronica. And then Anthony decides to buy some property in the general area. He lives in the past (as he invents it) and sees no future except for possibly reinventing himself in France.
Some of these characters have quite a lot in common but different backgrounds – The parents are all deceased. Aramon’s father, Serge, honored him and they both abused Audrun. Veronica, on the other hand was more honored one in her father’s eyes, but their mother was close to Anthony. Veronica had to protect her Anthony from their father’s wrath.
So Audrun Lunel is hoping for Aramon to die so she will possibly inherit the whole estate while Kitty is hoping Anthony will die so Veronica will be hers alone.
Audrun was close to her mother, Bernadette, and misses her badly while Aramon misses his father. They have lived in the house their grandparents bought their whole lives. Neither Anthony nor Veronica seem to miss their parents much. They aren’t “rooted” like the Lunels. Anthony misses his mother very much – Veronica has a pretty healthy view of her parents I think.
And so the plot unfolds switching scenes between issues related to backgrounds of the main characters as well as the almost murderous sibling rivalry between the Lunels, and Kitty’s seriously venomous jealousy re Anthony of whom Veronica is very protective.
The book is definitely character driven but Tremain has plotted meticulously and the tension builds steadily – kind of like a soft rain builds to a downpour. There are motifs set in throughout – cracks and hidden things, living in or letting go of the past, sibling relationships, abuse, and perhaps that what you see may not be what is going on – what is real. (And it does seem as though the main men in this book are all rather selfish and brutal and the women are used or abused in one way or another but I don’t think that’s either a theme or a motif – it just happened.)
After you get used to it, the voice of Juliet Stephenson contributes nicely to the suspense – where and how will all this end?
Some good lines:
“It often seemed to Audrun Lunel that the dead, becoming formless, also became agile and could seep not only into your dreams, but into the very air you were breathing.” (p. 14 K.)
“It amused Aramon to read how the world still danced about in its whirl of pointless endeavour.” (p. 127 – K.)