This novel is told in two parts. The first half switches back and forth between the early seventies and 1993, the year in which the book is set.
Sylvie and Greg have a beautiful little daughter named Élodie. She is gorgeous and is unique in that she has heterochromia (one eye a different color from the other). However, Sylvie soon learns that her lovely little daughter is missing something… or a lot of somethings… like kindness, empathy, and love. She is cold, unemotional, callous, and manipulative. When Élodie is just a toddler, Sylvie takes her to a child psychologist who gives his opinion that Élodie exhibits all the traits of a psychopath… After witnessing many of Élodie’s cruel, hostile, and oftentimes life-threatening behaviors, Sylvie becomes afraid of her little daughter. Greg, on the other hand will not agree and he lives in denial. He is always siding with Élodie and explains her behavior away.
“I would die for her, without hesitation. I am her mother. It’s just that, sometimes, I wish I wasn’t. I am her mother but I wish I wasn’t.”
Then, when Élodie is ten years old, Sylvie accidentally becomes pregnant again. This time to a lovely and normal little daughter named Emma. Sylvie is on tenterhooks. Wondering when Élodie will harm her vulnerable baby sister.
After four years of this tense, vigilant, and traumatic way of life, Sylvie and Greg split up and Sylvie and little Emma go to live in London.
Emma has always thought her elder sister was dead. Sylvie has never told her the circumstances.
Now, there has been a minor fire at the old family home in Provence, where the girls were born. Sylvie and Emma return to the house to check the damage and prepare it for sale. When they arrive they find that the area is undergoing a heatwave, the worst in years.
Part II (takes place in 1993 with flashbacks to 1983)
It turns out that Élodie is very much alive. Still beautiful. Where has she been all these years? Has she changed? Emma, now fourteen years old, is distraught that her mother misled her all this time. Sylvie wants to love her eldest daughter, yet past experience makes her wary…
Meanwhile the air is filled with smoke. The heatwave has sparked forest fires and these fires creep ever closer to La Rêverie…
This is my first time reading the work of Kate Riordan and it definitely will not be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing, her characterization, and her eloquent descriptions. The heat was palpable, and the familial relationships unsettling.
In fact, I’d have to say that I felt uncomfortable for most of the book. Wondering just how evil Élodie might turn out to be… It was unnerving and intense.
La Rêverie, the run-down old house in Provence, was almost a character unto itself. In the family for generations, it was difficult to fathom how Sylvie could even consider selling it.
This is a claustrophobic and harrowing tale about a very dysfunctional family. If you like disturbing domestic thrillers with ambiance, then this is the book for you.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley.
Publication date: August 18, 2020 Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist. She is an avid reader of Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie, both of whom have influenced her writing. She lives in the Cotswolds, where she writes full-time. Her previous novels include The Girl In The Photograph, The Shadow Hour, The Stranger and The Heatwave, which was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Her fifth and most recent novel is Summer Fever.