Title: The Au Pair
Author: Emma Rous
Published: December 11th 2018
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
A tautly plotted mystery of dark family secrets, perfect for fans of Kate Morton.
Seraphine Mayes and her brother Danny are known as the summer-born Summerbournes: the first set of summer twins to be born at Summerbourne House. But on the day they were born their mother threw herself to her death, their au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark-cloaked figures and a stolen baby.
Now twenty-five, and mourning the recent death of her father, Seraphine uncovers a family photograph taken on the day the twins were born featuring both parents posing with just one baby. Seraphine soon becomes fixated with the notion that she and Danny might not be twins after all, that she wasn’t the baby born that day and that there was more to her mother’s death than she has ever been told…
Why did their beloved au pair flee that day?
Where is she now?
Does she hold the key to what really happened?
There has been a significant amount of hype attached to The Au Pair, the debut family mystery come thriller from British author Emma Rous. Touted as ‘the biggest debut of 2019’ on the front cover, it certainly has some great initial pull power! What first presented to me as a thriller novel concerning a long hidden family mystery, actually developed into something much more surprising. I would be more inclined to shelve The Au Pair into one of my own personal favourite book categories, a gothic family based thriller. If you enjoy dual narrative timelines, such as the work of Hannah Richell or Kate Morton, do not delay in picking up The Au Pair!
Mystery, secrets and dark family truths, which are all encased in a tight narrative, defines The Au Pair. The story centres on the discovery made by Seraphine Mayes, who is a twin. When Seraphine unearths a family photograph that she has never seen before, which was taken just moments before her mother died in a tragic accident near the sea cliffs that surround the family home of Summerbourne, Seraphine has so many unanswered questions. Seraphine is determined to get to the bottom of this family mystery which she senses is linked to her identity somehow. What surmounts is plenty of rumour, suspicion, strange figures and the mysterious presence of an au pair, who may hold the link to Seraphine’s past.
I wasn’t aware of just how much this novel was going to tick all my book boxes when I first embarked on the process of reading Emma Rous’ debut, The Au Pair. I do enjoy taking a chance on debut authors and I was richly rewarded by my first experience with the work of Emma Rous. I always like to peruse the author bio information in books, especially debut novels. I was surprised to read Emma Rous studied veterinary medicine and zoology at the University of Cambridge. After graduating, Rous practiced in this field for eighteen years, before turning to full time writing. What an interesting previous career! I’m so pleased Emma Rous followed her long held dream of wanting to write stories. The Au Pair is a spectacular debut that I rate very highly.
I must open my review with the wow factor I received from the setting of The Au Pair. There is an overwhelming sense of place in this novel. The Au Pair is deeply rooted in an ominous, spiralling and malevolent eeriness that drips through the pages and onto the reader’s hands from the very moment you pick up this novel. Summerbourne is the set locale of the events of this novel and like the very famous Manderley from the iconic novel Rebecca, this estate has immense stage presence. Alongside Summerbourne sits its city based estate owned by the same family and the focus set of the novel, called Winterbourne. There is also a rich sense of atmosphere that follows Winterbourne, but Summerbourne is in a class above. The tension is further heightened in the novel by the seaside cliffs that surround Summerbourne, which we soon learn was a place of great tragedy. If you can take one thing away from The Au Pair, it would be the dramatic surroundings of this stunning novel.
I am sure by now you can hazard a guess that I am quite in love with this book! My love for The Au Pair also extends to the characterisation, which is set to a high bar by first time novelist, Emma Rous. The narrative is cleverly split down the middle, alternating between Seraphine, the present day daughter of the tale and Laura, to the au pair sent to Summerbourne that fateful summer of 1991. Rous is careful to balance the novel out evenly. We gain a clear picture of the impressions of both of these women, in conjunction with a number of periphery characters. These outer characters range from family members and siblings, to love interests. Each is sculpted to utter perfection by Rous, but she still maintains a shroud of mystery over the tale, so we are never entirely sure who or what to believe. It is difficult to maintain a high level of suspense and secrecy for an entire novel, but Rous succeeds in this feat. There were only a couple of unanswered questions that remained when I reached the close of this novel.
Categorised as a modern thriller, The Au Pair is so much more. There are some underlying themes of romance that held my interest. In addition, the gothic direction that the book took was the most surprising element of the tale. I enjoyed the references to fairies, twin curses and the mysterious gardener. The sinister presence of the cliffs that surrounds Summerbourne also adds an extra layer to the tale. The family mystery that is at the very core of the novel was incredibly astute, it really tested my mind limits as I came to grips with the well timed puzzle pieces that were gradually handed over by Emma Rous. This is a book that really demonstrates the depths of self sacrifice, with a meaningful touch of unity at the end.
The Au Pair is a tremendous debut novel that provided a perfect end to a big reading year. It isn’t often that a book arrives in your hands that contains eloquent writing, clever plotting, an amazing narrative drive and strong characters, which are all set to an overwhelming sense of place. I am so looking forward to the next novel by Emma Rous, I’m sure it will win me over, much like The Au Pair.
The Au Pair by Emma Rous is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99
To learn more about the author of The Au Pair, Emma Rous, visit here.
*I wish to thank Hachette Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.