The Au Pair…
About the Book:
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?
‘Danny and I were always told this was the first picture taken of us after all those months lost to grief when we were born. It’s a bright winter scene, the ground blanketed in snow, and five-year-old Edwin wears a navy blue duffel coat and bright blue mittens and no hat. The bare branches of the Summerbourne orchard are visible behind him, and he holds a carrot and stands next to a noseless snowman. Instead of looking at the camera, his eyes are fixed on two babies propped up in an old-fashioned pram. I have a sudden memory of Dad telling me this was the brief stage when Danny and I were the same size; when he’d just caught up with me, before he surged ahead and left me forever the smaller one. We wear read bobble hats, almost certainly knitted by Vera, and we’re zipped into quilted snowsuits, wedged in next to each other, and we stare out at the world – at the snow, the sky, our big brother – with matching startled expressions.’
The Au Pair is a novel that more than lives up to the anticipation surrounding its release. It’s deeply atmospheric with a tangled web of mystery anchoring the two timelines it shifts between. I’ve always loved a story that revolves around an old house, but in this novel, I was treated to not one, but two atmospheric family homes and I absolutely loved the way the author connected these. Summerbourne is the family’s country home, the scene of the mystery and most of the action, but Winterbourne, the family’s city home, plays its part as well, particularly towards the end. All throughout the novel, the author is weaving this imagery of Summerbourne as a living entity. It’s a real treat and taps into why so many of us enjoy stories revolving around old houses.
‘I stare at him. Is it true? How could I have hurt him and not known about it? The hairs on my arms rise, and the air around me seems to shift and relayer itself, as if Summerbourne itself is sifting through its memories.’
We experience this story in the first person in both timelines, from the perspective of Seraphine, the daughter of the family in the present day and Laura, the mysterious au pair from the past. Despite this first person narration, I felt we were given a thorough insight into all of the other characters. I was quite impressed by this actually because while first person narration offers an intimate journey with the main character, it can often leave you disconnected from the other characters, unless its skilfully deployed, which in this case, it certainly was. Seraphine’s actions really drive the narrative in this novel and I was impressed at how well linked the two timelines actually were. This was definitely not a case of two separate but loosely linked stories finding a home within the same book. Far from it. With each chapter that alternated, links were formed and at all times, I keenly felt the momentum of both stories moving towards the same end point. The tension that built as the mystery deepened was taut and well executed, Seraphine’s increasing paranoia mirroring my own urgency to just keep on reading. What begins with Seraphine discovering a previously unseen photo taken on the day of her birth rapidly grows into a time bomb just waiting to detonate, blasting apart this family and their history, along with a few innocent (and not so innocent) bystanders.
‘Photos of seagulls and sunsets follow, and I shuffle through them until I reach the final picture: a domestic scene both recognisable and unfamiliar. The hairs at the base of my skull prickle, and I hold my breath, and the air in the room presses closer, as if it too is straining to absorb the details.’
This story is one of tragedy and obsession, of selfish ambition and selfless sacrifice, and of love, in all its complicated glory. Emma Rous provides some great characterisation within this novel and I was able to empathise with all of the characters, even the ones who acted without honour. There is some gorgeous writing throughout and as I mentioned earlier, the narrative is infused with atmosphere. The Au Pair is a terrific novel, well paced and plotted to perfection. I highly recommend this one.
‘The future hovered like a boat about to raise its sail, waiting for my next words, suspended between elements, tugged by guilt and love and desperation.’
Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of The Au Pair for review.
About the Author:
Emma Rous is a Cambridge University graduate who spent eighteen years working as a veterinary surgeon. She is now writing full time, and lives in Cambridgeshire with her husband and three school-age sons.
The Au Pair
Published by Hachette Australia – Piatkus
Released on 11th December 2018