I have a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar keeping me company this morning, and I’m waiting for my Date Loaf to be done baking in the oven, so I’m looking forward to a slice of that as well. So many treats, so little time!
That is exactly how I’m feeling about books, too! I am slightly more than halfway through this surprisingly good gothic novel, The Au Pair by Emma Rous, and I’d love to tackle the rest of it today. But I have a Volunteer book club meeting next Saturday, and we are discussing a fairly lengthy historical novel, one about which I know nothing, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. This is also a new author for me, so I want to leave myself enough time to finish it. I’m going to see Margaret Atwood speak on Thursday night, so that’s at least one night when I’ll get almost no reading done. To make matters worse, I also have Friends book club meeting a week from tomorrow, and we’re discussing a book I’ve never read before, The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver. So my dilemma is: do I power through the gothic novel and try to finish it today, then skim both the Quinn and Shriver novels next week, hoping to get sufficient understanding of the stories to contribute meaningfully to the discussions, or should I set aside The Au Pair and tackle The Alice Network today with the intent to make good headway before the work-week starts? Let me tell you a bit about The Au Pair so you can understand why this is so difficult.
This novel is told from the points of view of two narrators, Seraphine and Laura. On the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny have their celebrations overshadowed by the death of their father, who fell from a ladder while working outside at Summerbourne, their isolated home in Norfolk. This is not the first tragedy to strike this family. The day after she and Danny were born, their mother threw herself off the cliffs and plunged to her death. And a few years before that, their older brother Edwin was present as his twin brother, two-year-old Theo, fell from the watchtower overlooking the cliffs. All her life, Seraphine has heard rumours that she and her brother Danny were sprite children, twins who replaced the real children that were stolen. Or that she is not really Danny’s sister at all, that she is someone else’s child who was somehow sent to live with the Mayes family for some reason. There were rumours in the village, too, that Summerbourne can’t keep its twins, that one or both throughout history have perished, or been stolen and replaced. When she discovers a photograph taken on the day she was born of her mother, looking calm and happy and holding just one baby, Seraphine needs to know who that baby is, she or Danny, and if there was only one baby, how did two babies happen to be raised in the Mayes family? Thankfully we have the narrative of Laura, the young nanny from the time before the twins were born, to fill in the history, but how much of her story is clouded by her youth and naivité, as well as her growing feelings for the family friend, Alex? Sprites, changelings and dark family secrets abound in this not-quite-ghost story, where elements of the supernatural are intertwined with a young woman’s need to find out the truth about her family. I know it sounds hokey, but it's really surprisingly engaging and well-written. It must be incredibly difficult to write a modern gothic novel, as one of the key elements of this genre is isolation, and these days we are all so “connected”, with our phones and devices and social media and instant updates and the endless selfies (and food pics!) that are posted ad nauseum. But I found this one to be gripping and intriguing, and I’ve been looking forward to making more reading time each night after work and reading later than I probably should have (which would explain why I’ve been so tired this week!!). Rous has managed to create the same sense of foreboding for this reader as Rosemary’s Baby or Rebecca, where you know something is not right, but you have no idea what that might be, and the truth is revealed bit by bit until the final, shocking ending. Well, I don’t know about the ending here, as I’ve still got about 150 pages to go, but so far it has been a really riveting read. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not flawless, and it’s certainly not literary, but for this type of story, it’s got all the bases covered and then some!
I think I’ll go for a long walk then power through to the end of this book, and if I’m not finished, I’ll have to set it aside until after my book club meetings are done. Have a great day and enjoy the early-summer-like weather!Bye for now…