Desert Isle Keeper
Gothic novels aren’t always my thing, but every once in awhile, I find myself craving a story set in a spooky old house on the English moors. Fortunately, the last time I had such a craving, The Au Pair by Emma Rous was here waiting for me, and it was everything I was hoping for and more.
It’s no secret that Seraphine Mayes’ mother took her own life shortly after giving birth to Seraphine and her twin brother Danny, leaving them along with their five-year-old brother in the care of their distant father and overbearing maternal grandmother, but no one talks about the reasons why. As a child, Seraphine tried to discover what could have driven her mother to such a desperate act, but no one will answer her questions. The only person who might be willing to talk to Seraphine is Laura, the young woman who was hired to be five-year-old Edwin’s au pair while Mrs. Mayes was pregnant with the twins, but Laura disappeared without a trace on the day Seraphine and Danny were born, taking Seraphine’s only hope of learning the truth with her.
Seraphine is twenty-five when the story opens. Her father has recently died, and Seraphine, Danny and Edwin are doing their best to put his affairs in order. Seraphine wants desperately to inherit Summerbourne, the estate where she grew up, but it seems more likely that one of her brothers will inherit it instead. While going through some of her father’s papers, Seraphine comes across a picture of her mother taken just after she gave birth to the twins. She’s sitting in the garden, dressed elegantly and holding only one sleeping baby. Everything in the photograph seems off to Seraphine. Why is only one of the twins in the photograph, and what could have prompted the young woman who appeared so happy in it to jump off a cliff just hours after the photograph was taken?
Both Edwin and Danny urge Seraphine not to dwell on the past, but Seraphine finds herself unable to take their advice to heart. She’s wondered about the circumstances of her mother’s suicide for as long as she can remember, and she’s bound and determined to finally have her questions answered. To this end, she begins searching for Laura, unaware of the danger her quest will bring to Summerbourne and those who dwell there.
The story moves seamlessly between past and present, allowing the reader to see things from the perspectives of both Seraphine and the enigmatic Laura. I found both parts of the novel quite intriguing, but I enjoyed Laura’s chapters a little bit more than Seraphine’s. I could certainly understand Seraphine’s burning desire to finally learn the truth about her mother’s death, but I wasn’t always fond of the methods she employs. She often acts in a reckless manner, and she seemed incapable of considering anyone’s wants or needs aside from her own. Luckily, she mellows out as the story progresses and I actually found her to be quite a dynamic heroine by the novel’s end.
Laura is the star of the story as far as I’m concerned. She comes to Summerbourne, not really sure what to expect from the Mayes family. She falls in love with Edwin almost immediately, and the scenes that featured the two of them together are some of the best parts of this book. Unfortunately, her relationships with Mr. and Mrs. Mayes are far more complex, but I can’t say too much about that without ruining the story for you. Just trust me when I say that the Mayes give Laura far more than she bargained for in both good and bad ways.
Parts of the plot might seem a bit too predictable for some readers, but I was completely captivated from beginning to end. It’s true that the story isn’t one-hundred percent original, but Ms. Rous takes a somewhat familiar premise and makes it her own, and I admire her for it. The twists she throws in might not appeal to everyone, but I loved the serpentine road I traveled with these characters.
The next time you’re in the mood for a gothic tale, I urge you to pick up a copy of The Au Pair. I’m pretty sure you’ll fall under its spell like I did, and I’m equally sure you won’t regret spending time in the world Ms. Rous has crafted.