With 2012 coming rapidly to a close I’ve now had to accept that I’m not going to have time before the end of December to write about all of the books I’ve read this year. I still have three outstanding reviews to post from October, five from November, plus any more books that I finish in the final two weeks of this month. The good news is that I do have drafts nearly complete for most of those books, so it’s just a case of finding time to finish them. I’m going to try to post as many as possible this week and next, beginning with this one, The Light Behind the Window.
This is the third novel by Lucinda Riley. I haven’t read her first, Hothouse Flower (published as The Orchid House in America), but I enjoyed her second, The Girl on the Cliff and was looking forward to reading this one. I would describe Lucinda Riley’s books as similar to Kate Morton’s: a mixture of history, romance and suspense within a dual time-frame structure. The action in The Light Behind the Window is divided between England in the 1990s and France in the 1940s.
We begin in 1998, when we meet Emilie de la Martinieres whose mother has just died, leaving Emilie to inherit the family estate which includes a beautiful château and vineyard in the south of France. Alone in the world and not sure what to do with her inheritance, Emilie is grateful for the help of her new friend, Sebastian Carruthers, who she meets at a restaurant in the village. Sebastian is an Englishman with connections to the de la Martinieres’ château – he tells Emilie that his grandmother, Constance, had stayed there during the Second World War. After a very short time, Sebastian and Emilie marry and return to England where the Carruthers have a home in Yorkshire. Here at Blackmoor Hall, Emilie meets her new brother-in-law, Alex, who is not on good terms with Sebastian and lives in a separate wing of the house. Sebastian has nothing good to say about Alex, but as Emilie gets to know them both better she begins to wonder whether there’s more to the feud between the brothers than meets the eye.
The link between the two families – the Carruthers and the de la Martinieres – is explored further in the novel’s other storyline, which takes place in the 1940s and follows the adventures of Constance Carruthers who has been recruited by the SOE (the British Special Operations Executive) to carry out espionage in occupied France and assist the French Resistance. After she finishes her training, Constance travels to Paris on her first secret mission but things don’t go according to plan and instead of being met by her contact she ends up in the home of Edouard de la Martinieres – Emilie’s father. The past and present stories – Constance’s in the 1940s and Emilie’s in the 1990s are connected in many ways and during the course of the novel the two threads meet and become woven together. As it says on the front cover of the book, “Unlocking the past is the key to the future…”
I didn’t enjoy this one as much as The Girl on the Cliff, though it was still an entertaining read. I do like Lucinda Riley’s writing overall, but I couldn’t help thinking that the dialogue in this book felt very stilted and unnatural. I have to mention it because it was something that really grated on me, especially in the first half of the book, though by the time I was halfway through I had been swept away by the story and after that any problems with the writing were less noticeable.
Whenever I read a novel set in more than one time period I usually (though not always) find that I become more involved in one than the other. Being the lover of historical fiction that I am, it’s not surprising that it tends to be the historical storyline that I prefer and that was the case again with this book. The contemporary story felt too predictable at times and there were too many plot developments that I found hard to believe, but the wartime story was fascinating and exciting. I’ve never read anything about the SOE before and it was so interesting to learn about their work in France and what it involved.
Another aspect of the book I want to mention is that two of the main characters are Nazi officers; one of them is not much more than a stereotype and is one of the novel’s villains, but the other is portrayed more sympathetically, as someone who is not completely committed and having doubts about the Nazi regime. I thought this was an interesting perspective, but it would have been nice to have seen him actually do more to act on his concerns and I’m not sure I was really very comfortable with the way his story ended.
Despite having a few problems with The Light Behind the Window I’m looking forward to Lucinda Riley’s next book and will hopefully get around to reading Hothouse Flower at some point too!