Deborah Lawrenson would like to correct a few misconceptions about her newly released novel, The Lantern (Harper).
"I know the book has been seen as a gothic thriller," Lawrenson said, speaking from her second home in France's Luberon, the region of Provence in which this book takes place. "It's not a thriller. It's far too slow!"
Lawrenson described her latest book, which concerns a British husband and wife living in relative expatriate isolation: "It's much more subtle than that. I might call it 'romantic suspense,' except that I think of it more as psychological suspense. It's slower than a thriller, dreamier than a thriller, and also more realistic. I feel a bit worried that people will expect full-throttle murder and ghosts and such--and that's not my book!"
Characters Eve and Dom are reserved, and are hiding feelings and worries from each other. Their French home is full of sensory pleasures, from scents to tastes to textures, yet Eve becomes increasingly worried that Dom is keeping terrible secrets from her. Lawrenson's inspiration? The classic tale Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, in which another young wife turns suspicious of her older, troubled husband.
"It's a great story, one that almost puts fingers in the mind. I've read it five or six times since I was a teenager," Lawrenson said. " What appeals to me is the quality of the writing. Du Maurier starts dreamily and then allows her plot to unfold. Not only does that appeal to me; it's something I quite happily lapse into myself."
Another element that The Lantern shares with Rebecca is a different sort of heroine. "Some people think Eve isn't a very modern heroine because she's so trusting in her marriage to a man whose history is somewhat obscure, who whisks her away to such a remote place. But I don't think of Eve as docile and subservient. There are women--men, too, but particularly women, I think--who find themselves in a situation like this and don't move on from it. "
Lawerenson says that the key to Eve's situation is that she's a bookworm. "She's not nearly as confident as she pretended to be when she took up with Dom. She's borrowed a certain amount of sophistication and she can't believe her luck in snagging such a handsome, accomplished man--but she doesn't have the experience, in the end, to confront him about his past."
This disconnect between spouses is, Lawrenson maintains, what brings her novel back to Rebecca. "What does Eve do when she feels slightly adrift? She retreats into her comfort zone, her books. The secondhand gothic overtones in her favorite books, from du Maurier to the Brontes, forms another kind of haunting. It skews her thinking about what is really going on. Like Rebecca, the emotional power that books have over Eve is the kind of effect that these books have had on millions of women."
Deborah Lawrenson's name is new to American readers, but she's published four novels in her native England, where she worked as a journalist. "When I started writing, I fell into the trap of writing about 'what you know,' and pushed out two funny, lightly satirical books about working on newspapers."
Unfortunately, while those two books did fairly well, the author's third, a "black comedy," didn't. "It was a combo of its not being a great book and my publishers being sold and the new owners dropping half of the list." Lawrenson laughed heartily. "I think they probably would have sold more copies if they'd simply dropped a couple of cases of the book from the top of Random House!"
"The first three books would have been better off in a drawer, but I learned how to write a book," Lawrenson said. "It just wasn't the kind of book I wanted to write! Finally, I sat down to write that book--and couldn't get my agent or any other to sell it. They couldn't figure out if it were a commercial book or a literary book. Finally, I got so cross I published it myself."
Lawrenson did a very good job with The Art of Falling--so good that Random House bought the rights and sold it well, which led to the deal for The Lantern here in the U.S. However, she wants anyone with authorly ambitions to hear her words on another misconception: that of instant success through self-publishing.
"There was a big difference with my own self-publishing efforts, you see," she explained. "I had been published three times already, and I knew in my heart that the book I self-published was a better book than those first three. I knew what to do. There's a great deal of information out there, but there's still no substitute for experience." --Bethanne Patrick