Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A Review of The Chase by Lorna Fergusson

Reviewed by Gillian Hamer

4/5 Stars

With strong themes of location, foreign shores and echoes of the past, this book was always going to be my cup of tea.

It’s hard to pigeon-hole a genre for The Chase. There’s tension throughout that qualifies it as a thriller in its own right. There’s wonderful historical interest that tells the whole story of a house from Roman times through to WWII. And there’s enough complex family interaction to weave a literary saga.

From the opening scene and its shocking images of life behind closed doors at a remote French villa, we are taken on a journey of two cultures, both of which are excellently described. The author is particularly adept at her descriptive passages. Knowing Oxford relatively well, I found her local knowledge and research really came through. With that in mind, I had no doubt the descriptions – both past and present – of the Dordogne region would be equally as accurate. With that confidence in a writer, I think it allows the reader to open up and enjoy and accept the story and its characters.

The lead roles are played by Gerald and Netty Feldwick; a couple struggling to hold their marriage together after the tragic death of their young son. A move to France is Gerald’s solution, and, while it’s clear from the outset this was never more than a case of glossing over the cracks for Netty, we read on with bated breath to see where their journey will lead. As lead characters, I found them equally as understandable as frustrating, and at times I would have liked a little more from them, something to stand them apart and allow the story to gravitate around them. This would, I felt, have brought more connection, or sympathy even, especially with Netty, to help involve me in the trials and tribulations of their lives.

On a separate thread, the author allows us insights into the history of their new home, Le Sanglier, and knowing the secrets of its past, we are always wondering if something darker and deeper than a woman’s guilt and grief may be at work here. The narrative is clever and the twists and turns keep the reader turning the page. And while the answer may be left before us like a dangling carrot at the end of the novel, I found I almost didn’t want to know. It was a secret better left unsolved, waiting for the next generation of Le Sanglier residents.

Characters are introduced at a pretty fast rate, to the point I found I did need to check back to keep abreast of whom they were – but each brought something fresh and at times unexpected to the story. As the climax of the story built, with tension heavy in the air, I was, if I’m honest, expecting a little more from some of the side characters. 

Towards the denouement of the story, I think some of the locals – Claudine and the Professor in particularly – seemed to fade away without creating the impact I expected to see from them. Otherwise, characterisation was skilfully written, human nature was examined at length, and I found the dialogue flawless.

The strong sense of ‘Frenchness’ throughout this novel is reminiscent of Joanne Harris’s ‘Chocolat’ and the complex dissection of human emotion and relationships had echoes of Harris’s writing too.

This is a professionally produced novel, by an author clearly confident in her craft and who has a deep love of words and literature. I would recommend this novel to readers of all genres – anyone who enjoys complex family sagas – with an excellent sting in the tail!

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