Full disclaimer : COVID has left me brutally ski-deprived. I spent this past January driving through mountains positively mocking me with their pistes fluffy with beautiful, virginal snow, yet with not one lone skier on them due to COVID restrictions.
COVID killed the season last year, and it’s looking as if this year won’t be any different.
All that backstory to explain why I was so eager to pick up The Chalet during a week I should have been skiing myself.
Instead (of necessity), I opted for skiing of the vicarious variety. Oh, and murder, too.
The Chalet is an ambitious debut novel set in a French Alpine ski resort. Usually I find it exhausting to have too many point of view characters, but here the author deftly managed to carry off fully seven characters telling their story, quite effectively, across dual timelines.
The Chalet is an ambitious debut novel set in a luxurious French Alpine ski resort, and deftly narrated through seven point of view characters and dual timelines.
The novel opens in 1998, in the fictional ski resort of La Madière, France. Two British couples are on holiday at the resort, and the men decide to take their chances, despite worrisome weather, skiing off-piste.
They hire a guide to accompany them, but as the weather worsens, it becomes apparent they have overestimated their skiing ability. The guides quickly become separated from their charges. After an anxious evening, only one of the men makes it down the mountain alive. The other is never found.
Fast-forward to January 2020 (oh, blissful pre-COVID existence!) when we find ourselves in the luxurious, five-star chalet of the title.
Two couples, one young baby and the baby’s nanny are guests in the luxurious lodging, the two men exploring a possible business partnership. A talented chalet girl is on hand to cook for them and to essentially meet their every need. Although the weather starts out positively, conditions rapidly deteriorate and create a situation similar to that long-ago week in ’98.
The writing, alternating points of view and shifting time lines, means this thriller moves along quickly, and the connection between the more spartan lodgings of 1998 and the posh chalet of 2020 – and those who vacation there – becomes increasingly evident.
This is a classic thriller and it moves along at a brisk pace. Without giving anything away, several aspects of this novel worked extremely well for me.
As already mentioned, the author, Catherine Cooper, a British national living in France, effectively manages to alternate between a large cast of characters and to capture their voices and seamlessly move the story forward through these multiple points of view. Only one of these voices – and its accompanying additional flashback – didn’t work perfectly for me. Although, in the end, I was willing to suspend disbelief.
The other impressive feat, especially for a debut novel, was the ability to have me racing through a novel and interested in the motivations of each narrrator when virtually all the point of view characters were thoroughly unlikeable. That, in itself, is no easy feat.
Additionally, the author establishes a strong sense of place, a deep understanding about the atmosphere of many up-market European ski resorts and the individuals who gravitate to them, and, for ski addicts like me, enough of a ski atmosphere to keep our deprived selves happy.
All in all, a fast, exhilarating ski run of a read.