Books on ProvenceInspireMary Jane Deeb

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson a Book Review

A book review by Mary-Jane Deeb of “The Lantern” by Deborah Lawrenson, Harper, New York, London, 2011.

The Author

Deborah Lawrenson is a British writer and journalist, issued of a diplomatic family, who spent her childhood travelling around the world, accompanying her parents and sister wherever they were posted. Before starting her Serena Kent mystery series set in Provence, Deborah Lawrenson wrote several other books set in Provence, all superbly crafted, all so evocative of that region that you could think yourself there, in the company of the fictional characters she created.

The Story

One such book is The Lantern, set in the Luberon, in Provence, where the author and her husband own an old house. In the novel, Les Genévriers is a fictional three-story farmhouse inspired by their own Provencal home. It is a place imbued with mystery and surrounded with extraordinary natural beauty – everyone in the village has stories about Les Genévriers as if it were a person or a mythical character. The place was not inhabited for years as ownership issues made it difficult to find buyers … until the heroes of the book acquire it.

The character at the centre of it all meets the man of her dreams in a maze on the shores of Lake Geneva. It is symbolic of their love story that starts simply enough as a whirlwind romance: “Head, heart, mind, and body. I wanted him and miraculously, he wanted me too.”(p. 11) But it gradually devolves into a tangled maze, from which they must find a way out if their love is to survive. Dom is handsome, older and composes music. He calls her Eve, although that is not her real name – symbolic perhaps of the story of Adam and Eve, blissfully happy in the Garden of Eden until Eve’s curiosity leads her to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. And that is what our heroine does, breaking her promise not to ask questions about his first wife. The choice of name for the house, Les Genévriers, also seems to be symbolic. Translated into English, it refers to Juniper trees that are supposed to have magical powers in fairy tales. In ancient myths, juniper trees often stand for love and protection – magic, love, protection, escape are recurring themes in The Lantern.

There is a parallel story, which unfolds throughout the book, that of the Lincels, the family who originally owned the house. Most of its members are dead except for Benedicte, who remembers her childhood and growing up in Les Genévriers when houses were lit by oil lamps at night, and there was no running water. Interwoven in the tale of Dom and Eve is that of Benedicte, Pierre and Marthe, who lived in the old farmhouse a generation earlier. Benedicte is the storyteller who wanted to be a school teacher but stayed home to care for her mother. Marthe is the eldest sister who became blind but achieved success in Paris as the founder of a great parfumerie. Pierre is the evil one who tortured animals, lied, and manipulated all those around him.

Readers Love It

The Lantern is a love story, a murder mystery, a haunting tale of misunderstanding – but it is also the story of two people desperately searching for happiness, who believe they have found it in this secluded place away from their past lives. There are passages about Provence that are so beautifully written that the only way I can do the author justice is to quote her:

“The haunting began … one afternoon in late summer. It was one of those days so intensely alive and aromatic, you could hear as well as smell the fig tree in the courtyard. Wasps hummed in the leaves as the fruit ripened and split; globes of warm, dark purple were dropping, ripping open as they landed with sodden gasps.” (p. 35)

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Mary Jane Deeb

Mary Jane is multilingual and decidedly multicultural. Born in Alexandria, Egypt to Slovenian-Levantine parents, Mary Jane grew up speaking French at home. Her studies and travels took her from an Irish school run by nuns to Washington, D.C., where she has lived since 1983 with her family.

This mother and now a grandmother is one accomplished lady with a doctorate in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University. She is currently the Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress.

Her career has included positions as the Editor of The Middle East Journal, Director of the Omani Program at The American University in Washington D.C. and Director of the Algeria Working Group at The Corporate Council on Africa.

Mary Jane taught at both Georgetown University and The George Washington University. She worked tirelessly for the United Nations Economic Commission for Western Asia, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), America-Mideast and Educational and Training Services, Inc. (AMIDEAST), and the US Agency for International Development in Lebanon during the civil war.

In her spare time, Mary Jane has published four mysteries: Cocktails and Murder on the Potomac which is set in Washington DC, and three others that are set in Grasse, Cannes and Nice: Murder on the Riviera, A Christmas Mystery in Provence and Death of a Harlequin. You can find Mary Jane's books here.

The beauty of Provence continues to inspire Mary Jane’s writing.

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