Saturday, June 13, 2020

Mini-Review: The Au Pair

 The Au PairOn the very day Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born at home on their family's Norfolk estate their mother committed suicide by throwing herself off the cliffs, their older brother's au pair fled and the small village's love of superstitious nonsense kicked into overdrive with talk of witches and changelings and sprites.  Twenty-some-odd years later, Seraphine still lives on the family estate mourning the recent accidental death of her father.  It's while she's going through some things that she discovers an old photograph, presumably taken on the day of her and Danny's birth.  Their father, their mother, their older brother Edwin newborn baby in their mother's arms.  Is that baby Seraphine or Danny and where's the other one?  Seraphine, who has spent her life being called a sprite, remarked upon that she looks nothing like her siblings or father, and saddled with grief, is determined to find answers.  And for that, she needs to track down Edwin's former au pair, Laura.

So begins Emma Rous's debut suspense novel, The Au Pair: family secrets, with a sprinkling of Gothic, told in time slip fashion - Seraphine in present day and Laura the au pair in the early 1990s.  The first half was a bit rocky for me mostly because Seraphine comes off as borderline hysterical (save me from hysterical female protagonists in suspense novels) but it smooths out a bit as the story lines converge and threats surface to warn Seraphine about snooping around in the family's dirty laundry.  There's even a very light romance thread to spice up the proceedings, making this one of the more nostalgic Gothic throwbacks I've read this year.

The ending is, well OK.  I'll be honest, it's really light in the pants on motive.  All the family secrets come tumbling out but why The Bad Guy did what they did doesn't hold up to much scrutiny.  But it's an ending, I guess?  And it helps distract from the other large issue in this story, which is that all the adults are really gross.  I mean, I think I'm supposed to not like Laura in the end and be a Judgey McJudge Pants about the choices she makes back in 1992 - but Laura was an 18-year-old girl with a mountain of baggage thanks to her Mum, Stepfather, and a relationship gone bad.  Did she make good choices?  Well, no.  But frankly she was 18 and the frickin' adults in this book were ADULTS and yes I'm going to hold them to a higher standard.  But then we wouldn't have had much of a story.

In the end this was better than OK for me but I wasn't in love with it.  That said, there's enough on the page of this debut novel that I would definitely be interested in reading Rous's next book.

Final Grade = B-

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