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 by Sarah Ridout is a deeply mysterious and highly contemplative study in human behaviour. I was instantly drawn into Charlotte’s story, engrossed right from the first page. Suffering from amnesia after an accident, Charlotte can’t remember any of her recent history. Her husband is a stranger, her daughter unknown, her home completely unfamiliar. Charlotte is desperate to remember her life, but as pieces begin to present themselves, she begins to question if she really wants to know who she is.
I found the whole notion of not remembering who you are utterly fascinating as the basis for a story. Sarah presents this extremely well, leaving no aspect unexplored. I love how Charlotte began to resist her returning memories as they began to show her in a light she didn’t approve of. It would be so odd to be in a situation such as that, so confusing and overwhelming. By presenting the story from Charlotte’s perspective and in first-person narrative, Sarah was able to articulate this emotional roller-coaster to perfection.
What I found most interesting about Le Chateau was the way in which Sarah explored the different ways people behave when they feel under threat. Take Charlotte’s mother in law. She was extremely passive-aggressive throughout the entire story. At times I was amazed at how brazenly rude to Charlotte she was. Then there was Ryan; that part of the story turned out to be an eye opener on the crazy neighbour front. And Ines. A bizarre woman if there ever was one. Put all together, there was a definitive menacing undertone to Le Chateau that was utterly riveting. When the story reached its climax, I was surprised by the lengths certain characters had gone to in order to ensure their own motivations were realised.
Interspersed with the music of David Bowie, and set in a château deep in the French country side, Le Chateau is atmosperic, alluring, and intense. It’s a sophisticated story that will draw you in and keep you tight within its embrace until the very end.
Le Chateau is book 43 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.