THE LAKE HOUSE
Author: Kate Morton
Allen & Unwin RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Kate Morton is one of my favourite mainstream Australian writers; the type of books she writes – gothic-style mystery with old houses and buried secrets – are my favourite. There’s something incredibly romantic about big old houses, once-beautiful but now tangled old gardens, yellowing letters, haunting secrets, ghostly apparitions … they put me in a reader’s swoon every time. The Lake House has all those elements and more, and when I finished reading, I sighed with contentment.
Skillful interweaving of dual narratives, time periods and plot lines reveals a moody and mysterious story which has the disappearance of toddler at its heart. The mystery begins in 1933 when Theo Edevane is found to be missing after an exclusive Midsummer Eve party at the Edevane’s Cornwall home, Loeanneth (Cornish for The Lake House). The police investigation proves fruitless; Theo is not to be found. No one knows if he is dead or alive, but the Edevanes and their contemporaries all have their ideas. Eventually, the Edevanes abandon Loeanneth for London and the case of Theo turns cold.
The summer had ripened and rotted so that autumn when it fell was thick and sullen … Even Mother, usually loath to leave the country, had seemed glad to escape the cold, stultifying sadness of the Lake House (p282-283)
Seventy years later, police officer Sadie Sparrow stumbles upon Loeanneth; the house is ‘as thoroughly forgotten as the garden’ that surrounds it: ‘Tiles were missing from the roof, some of them shattered where they’d fallen, and one of the windowpanes on the top floor was broken … The house before her was deserted. It was hard to put into words, but there was a look about it, an aura it gave off’ (p39-40). Sadie, who’s on enforced leave because of a troubling case involving an abandoned child and missing mother, hears about Theo Edevane’s disappearance and decides to do some digging. Her search leads to Alice Edevane, Theo’s older sister and acclaimed detective novel writer, who isn’t sure she wants the family’s secrets resurrected.
The Lake House is a polished and multi-layered read from a writer at the top of her craft. It retains elements fans have grown to love in Morton’s books: atmospheric, gothic mystery; house-as-character – ‘The building had taken on a sullen cast, like a spoiled child who enjoyed being the centre of attention and now wasn’t happy being enjoyed’ (p44). However, Morton ups the ante with by bringing in a detective (a nice link to the popularity of detective stories at the time of Theo’s disappearance): ‘… she knew, in that twist-of-the-gut way a police officer had better hope she developed, that something terrible had happened in that house’ (p44).
Morton twines together familiar themes of love, abandonment, mother-child separation and relationships, and murky pasts; twists are added through explorations of post-traumatic stress disorder and guilt. The result is a completely engrossing and dynamic read that’s hard to set aside once readers are sucked in. I do love a book that makes you think: ‘Maybe so and so did it … no, that would be too obvious … what if …’ Ultimately, I did pick the twist, but the story was so richly and beautifully told it didn’t matter.
Enthralling, haunting and utterly absorbing, The Lake House sucked me into the world of Loeanneth and had me wanting to stay longer. It’s another keeper from Kate Morton – if you haven’t discovered her yet, wait no more.