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.
Sarah Ridout is a debut author and her first venture into writing a novel made quite the impression on me. There is much to love about Le Chateau, it is an exquisite gothic tale, set in the vineyards of Southern France. It is an addictive novel of one woman’s quest to unlock the key to her life before amnesia set in, following an accident she has no knowledge of happening.
The focus of the Le Chateau is the life of an Australian woman Charlotte de Chastenet, who has an affluent life living in a French Chateau in Southern France. She has a charming husband named Henri and a beautiful young daughter, named Ada. Living together in the French Chateau, they are constantly overseen by Henri’s domineering mother ‘Madame’. The book opens as Charlotte returns to the chateau following a two week stay in hospital, which was the result of an accident. Charlotte has no knowledge of how and why the accident occurred. The accident led to a severe head injury, which has contributed to Charlotte’s current state of amnesia. Charlotte is encouraged to return home, in that hope that a familiar environment will help jog her memories. Instead of which, the exercise serves to confuse Charlotte further. She has no trust in those around her and strange happenings seem to occur while she attempts to recoup her memories. Added to Charlotte’s problems, is a secret pregnancy and her doubts over who the Father of her baby is. Henri’s mother Madame is quick to suggest to Charlotte that she has been unfaithful to her husband prior to the tragic accident. Le Chateau is the compelling story of Charlotte’s attempts to put the pieces of her life back together and save her marriage to Henri.
Le Chateau is an elegant piece of writing that had me drawn into Charlotte’s story from the opening page, to the close of the novel. Amnesia is not an easy topic to tackle but Ridout handles this topic with confidence and precision of a skilled writer. This main topic of the story is so compelling, that I it renders you unable to put it down. This happened to me as soon as I picked the novel up, I read it in two close sittings. Ridout is adept at getting inside her main character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. She is precise in her depiction of the complete confusion and mistrust that comes with a victim suffering from amnesia. Charlotte is a finely drawn character, who I was easily able to sympathise with. I was genuinely invested in and cared about her journey to reclaim her life and marriage. There are some touching moments in the novel, whereby Charlotte and Henri, who feel likes strangers to one another, try to reconnect after such a tragic incident. These scenes definitely pulled at the heartstrings and offered another layer, romance to the novel. Supporting the main protagonist Charlotte and her husband Henri (who I was never quite sure to trust) are also some very well formed secondary characters. From possible love interest Ryan, to Charlotte’s only trusted friend, to Henri’s enigmatic mother the ‘Madame’, Le Chateau is not short on memorable characters. These also include the chateau itself, that is so overbearing it could be seen as an additional character.
By far the setting has got to be the element of the book I loved the most. I made a trip to France last year and in 2010, so Le Chateau provided me with the chance to re-imagine my time in one of my most favourite locations in the world. Ridout clearly knows this area in and out, her local knowledge shines through in her writing, giving her reader vivid imagery of her setting. This is a novel that is paced perfectly, the final outcome was both shocking and fitting in my eyes. Before closing this review, I must make comment on the front cover of the book, which is absolutely stunning. It is also very reflective of the book itself, the impressionist style portrait of the couple of the front, links to the painting references contained in Le Chateau. The image of the couple is also quite blurred, which I also feel is a reflection of Charlotte’s mind for much of the novel, as she tries to clear her image of her life. What a wonderful choice for a front cover!
Suspense, romance and a poignant journey to the truth, defines the direction of Sarah Ridout’s debut novel Le Chateau. It is an authentic and compelling novel, that resonated with this reader deeply. It features a stunning French gothic style setting, that draws you deep into this addictive novel. I enjoyed my first experience of the Sarah Ridout’s writing and I can’t wait to explore more of her writing in the future.