The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

13th March 2012

*I received this book from the publisher (Harper) via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Some scents sparkle and then quickly disappear, like the effervescence of citrus zest or a bright note of mint. Some are strange siren songs of rarer origin that call from violets hidden in woodland, or irises after spring rain. Some scents release a rush of half-forgotten memories. And then there are the scents that seem to express truths about people and places that you have never forgotten: the scents that make time stand still.

How can I be frightened of a scent?

Thus begins Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern, a story of a place: Les Genévries, a stone farmhouse in the south of France and once the home of Bénédicte and her family and where, many years later, Eve and Dom retire after meeting one another in Switzerland and falling in love. Eve doesn’t know much about Dom except that he loves her and that he was once married, but the marriage is off limits for discussion. The couple enjoy the solace of the farmhouse, though more than once lights mysteriously turn on or off, and Eve finds a lit lantern in one of the pathways that neither she nor Dom have lit. Les Genévries once housed families, but now the couple roams its hallways in silence, increasingly withdrawing from one another as Dom’s secrets hang in the air between them like the scents that mysteriously waft through the windows. Bénédicte, in alternating chapters, gives the history of Les Genévries, and she has secrets of her own – a violent brother, a blind sister who asks Bénédicte to be her eyes as she uses her enhanced power of scent to create perfume. As Bénédicte and Eve get closer to uncovering the past, each woman also comes ever nearer uncovering the secrets of Les Genévries.

It is the place in this novel that is so enigmatic and elusive. Crumbling walls and uneven floors, the home itself has secrets: floorboards that lift and reveal hidden holes, irremovable stains, doors that lead nowhere. The two women feel this about the house but are wary of laying those secrets bare. The Lantern is essentially a mystery, but it’s also a Gothic tale, dark and evocative.

I wanted to love this book, and had I never read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, I may have. If you’ve read that novel, you know that what Du Maurier excels at is creating a Gothic setting and increasing the suspense notch by notch before revealing the awful truth of Rebecca. However, if you already know the culmination of that story, The Lantern will feel very much like a cheap knockoff; it looks similar, but it’s not quite as good. This isn’t to say that Deborah Lawrenson isn’t a talented author, she is; however, Du Maurier’s masterpiece works because of the writing and the story itself. The Lantern fails at introducing anything new or noteworthy in terms of Dom and Eve’s plot.

Bénédicte’s story is, to me, much more interesting. Yet Bénédicte often felt like an afterthought, a side act to the main plot. Her sister, Marthe, becomes one of the most well-known creators of perfume in France, but she started out humbly, working in fields of lavender, sent away to learn a trade in which she could excel in her blindness. Bénédicte is elderly when she begins to tell her story out of guilt and fear from an incident in her youth, prompted by apparitions of her family members when they are young. Though fearful, she lives alongside these ghosts, trying to discover why her sister cut off all communications after a violent argument with her brother and why they have chosen now to come back and haunt her.

Verdict: The Lantern is atmospheric and addictive, but if you’ve already read Rebecca, this may not be your favorite. If you haven’t read Rebecca, definitely give this one a try.

Buy this from Indiebound or for your Nook. Visit Deborah at her website, blog, or Facebook.


  • I had a great time with this one last summer; like you, I found Bénédicte’s story to be most compelling. I adore Rebecca and/but weirdly, this reimagining didn’t bother me as much as it did other fans, for whatever reason.

  • I read this for a readalong hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings for the RIP Challenge in October. I had *just* finished reading Rebecca and found that while I really loved The Lantern, it was a disservice to the book and the author that it was being billed for fans of Rebecca. The purist in me found that it just caused too many comparisons, and I felt bad for the author because it truly is a good story. Unfortunately, there are so many fans of Du Maurier that they will shred anything that is compared closely to her work if it’s not perfect. Which does include me! I didn’t shred it in my review, since I wrote it right when I finished the book, but I found that it was later, much later, when I started to ruminate a bit more on it. Lawrensen does a fantastic job with creating a haunting setting, and I’m looking forward to more from her.

    • Natalie – Agreed. However, I will say, I don’t think the book could escape those comparisons because it is *that* similar. I really thought, had Benedicte been the main storyline, this book would have been much more successful without any sort of comparison because her story was so so good. So I’m really torn. On one hand, I loved it. On the other hand, it was too close to Rebecca. It really is almost like two totally different books, and I honestly think if Eve and Dom had been used just as a means to an end for Benedicte’s mystery, it would have been much better. But, like you, I’m looking forward to other books from Lawrenson.

      • I love the idea of having the main storyline be Bénédicte instead of flipping perspectives. I wish I hadn’t read Rebecca right beforehand! Im sure it would have been an even better experience.

  • Darn, I’m sorry this one didn’t turn out to be a favorite for you, but thanks for being on the tour.

    • It was still a really fantastic book, and I was impressed with her writing. Definitely don’t regret reading it, and I passed it to my mom who hasn’t read Rebecca, so I think she’ll love it! Thank you guys for sponsoring!

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  • Samantha 1020

    I could not agree more with your review on this one. I actually expected to love it since I had seen so many good reviews but I ended up just thinking that it was okay/good. Rebecca was SO much better but that is to be expected I guess. I preferred Benedicte’s story as well…I could have just read those parts of the book and been okay. I did love the atmosphere that the author was able to create though. Great review!

    • Yes, I too loved the atmosphere, but as you said, I wished it had focused on Benedicte. Ah well. I really did think the connection to Rebecca would make me love it more, but that part just didn’t work for me.


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