Imagine having a terrible accident that leaves you with amnesia and wipes out memories of the last five years of your life. Your husband is a stranger, you don’t remember giving birth to your daughter, your home is an immense chateau in France that’s more than a little creepy that your family shares with your mysterious mother-in-law. This is Charlotte de Chastenet’s reality. Her husband, Henri, longs for her memory to be restored, but Charlotte suspects he is hiding things from her. Madame, as her mother-in-law is called, insinuates Charlotte had an affair with a neighbor, but rather than being upset about it, she often encourages Charlotte to go see the man. Her daughter, Ada, is sweet and happy to her mother home again, but she is sad and hurt when she notices Charlotte’s lack of memory about her—making Charlotte feel guilt on top of everything else.
The one person Charlotte knows she can trust is her old friend Susanna, whom she remembers clearly. Susanna comes to the chateau often, trying to help Charlotte with her memory as well as trying to solve the twin enigmas of Madame and the man with whom Charlotte may or may not have had an affair. Complicating matters further are the weird—and sometimes frightening—things Charlotte sees around the chateau and vineyards. Odd, ritualistic celebrations and Madame’s increasingly curious behavior have Charlotte on edge. She needs her memory back—and fast—because time is running out.
Sarah Ridout’s debut novel was a very enjoyable read. The chateau had just enough creepiness to give me a little shiver of unease whenever Charlotte was walking through it. Except Ada and Susanna, I suspected almost everyone Charlotte interacted with of hiding secrets or having ulterior motives. Discovering the answers to my many questions was never disappointing, and at times the answers were truly shocking.
I also like the way the cover ties into the theme of the story. The woman is blurred, unclear… you can only see the suggestion of her face, but not enough to make out any definite details, and her surroundings are equally obscured. It perfectly illustrates someone trying to remember their forgotten past based only on vague glimpses of moments they lived. The answers are so close, but deeply shrouded in shadows, and just out of reach.
I’ll be watching for news about this author… I’d like to read more of her work in the future.
About the Book
What really happened at the chateau?
When Charlotte regains consciousness after an accident, she finds herself living a stranger’s life. The previous five years are a blank, and her husband, Henri, and daughter, Ada, are strangers. Arriving at their family chateau in southern France, she hopes to regain her memories. Instead she feels isolated and unsettled. Strange events hint at underlying darkness and menace. Charlotte doesn’t know who to trust.
Did she really have an affair with their charming Irish neighbour, as her enigmatic mother-in-law suggests? And what of Henri? He seems loving and kind, a good parent, but Charlotte is wary. Then there is Ada, a little girl who just wants her mother back.
With the help of her friend and fellow Australian Susannah, Charlotte starts to piece together events, but her newfound confidence is shaken with news that puts a deadline on her quest…
Le Chateau is a suspenseful gothic tale that will appeal to readers of Daphne du Maurier and Kate Morton.
About the Author
SARAH RIDOUT has a Masters in Creative Writing (First Class Honours), from the select University College Dublin (UCD). UCD is the alma mater of James Joyce, John McGahern, Neil Jordan, Colm Tóibín, and Emma Donoghue, among others. Over the past eleven years she has lived in four countries with her husband and two children. Her eight years surrounded by the vineyards and chateaus of southern France produced a baby, family of Francophiles, and the seed of this novel, completed in Dublin, Ireland. Le Chateau draws on her experiences as an expatriate, her knowledge of France, its people and customs.