I read The Girl in the Photograph, an earlier novel by this author, and was underwhelmed, but I was intrigued by the premise of this novel and its setting.
I’m glad to have picked it up, and found it a compelling read.
This novel is largely set in southern France’s Provence region, in a small, inland vilage where Sylvie Duras grew up.
It’s been a decade since Sylvie has returned to her crumbling family property, La Rêverie. Sylvie and her teenage daughter, Emma, live in London, where Sylvie has distanced herself from her homeland, both physically and psychologically. “I think in English now. I even dream in my adopted language.”
I enjoyed this slow burn of a novel that leaves its readers with a gnawing sense of unease as the story of a troubled mother-daughter relationship unfolds against the backdrop of chirping cicadas and a sweltering provençal summer.
Sylvie has preferred to distance herself from her life in France, and particularly from the teenage daughter she lost when Emma was a young child.
Élodie, the older daughter of Sylvie and her British former husband, Greg, was fearless and strikingly beautiful. She was also extremely troubled, and the details slowly unravel in the novel’s dual timelines : the family’s past ranging from 1969-1983 and Sylvie and Emma’s return to La Rêverie in 1993.
The name of Sylvie’s family home La Rêverie translates as daydreaming in English and derives from the root word le rêve, which means dream. This takes on significant meaning during Sylvie and Emma’s return to Provence during a sweltering summer, with the menacing forest fires threatening their peaceful environment. For Sylvie, in particular, the return to her family home and the delicate balancing act her mind plays between past and present reminds the reader of a dreamlike state.
I enjoyed the slow revelations of the troubled family dynamics, so uncomfortable to read from the perspective as a reader and a mother.The characters, the setting and the dual storyline transporting us from past to the novel’s present all worked extremely well and kept me fully engaged.
There were some elements that didn’t work for me, particularly in the final chapters, that weakened the novel slightly for me. As a whole, however, this was a well-written psychological thriller and family drama, and a highly enjoyable read.