Review of The Temple House Vanishing @algonquinbooks

The Temple House Vanishing

Rachel Donohue

July 6, 2021

Algonquin Books


Blurb: Perched high atop a seaside cliff in Ireland, a lonely Victorian mansion is home to Temple House School. And at Temple House, nothing is ever as it seems.

Louisa is the new, brilliant scholarship student. Finding most of the other students at the all-girls Catholic boarding school as icy and unfamiliar as the drafty mansion, she forms a fierce bond with the intense and compelling Victoria, an outlier and student provocateur.

Their close bond is soon unsettled by the young, charismatic art teacher, Mr. Lavelle—igniting tension and obsession in the cloistered world of the school. Then one day, Louisa and Mr. Lavelle disappear.

There is no trace of either one. It’s the unsolved mystery that captivates the whole country. Year after year, the media revisit it, and the conspiracy theories persist. Now, on the twenty-fifth anniversary, a journalist—a woman who grew up on the same street as Louisa—delves into the past to write a series of articles and uncover the truth. She finds stories of jealousy and revenge, power and class. But will she find Louisa and Mr. Lavelle, too?

Because remember—at Temple House, nothing is ever as it seems.

Told through alternating points of view, Rachel Donohue’s debut novel skillfully, gradually, lets the reader into the hearts and minds of both Louisa and the determined reporter.

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One night in late December in Ireland, a highly intelligent 16-year old student, Louisa, and her 25-year old art teacher, Mr. Lavelle, disappear. Rumors swirl around the disappearance. Was there foul play or did they run off together? On the 25th anniversary of the disappearance, a journalist, who once lived across the street from Louisa, takes on their story in The Temple House Vanishing, an atmospheric novel by Rachel Donohue that is part mystery and part ghost story.

The Temple House Vanishing is told in two narratives, the first is The Journalist’s and the second Louisa’s. The writing was excellent, frequently giving the reader the feeling of being there.

I read The Temple House Vanishing in one day and was never bored nor distracted. This is a very impressive debut novel, filled with lyrical language and keen observations about human nature:

“And I thought, shouldn’t you know better? Didn’t he know that we Temple House girls lived for these things, a glance that might stop the world?

And isn’t that at the heart of all romantic teenaged girls, to be forever searching for that one glance?

I did feel that the characterization could have been stronger as the story took on the feel of plot-driven rather than character-driven. I could not account for Louisa’s behavior later in the novel. It was like a switch had been flicked, although perhaps this was due to desperation on her part as she saw events moving out of her control. Not that she, or any of them, had any control over the situation once it began to intensify.

Victoria, Louisa’s best friend, who is enamored with Mr. Lavelle is never quite as believable as she could be. How did she become successful throughout her adult years? The idea of her achieving any kind of rational success seems unfeasible.

While this is a novel that completely transfixed me, I felt disappointed at the ending not because it was unexpected, but because some of it seemed purposefully confusing in its language, forcing me to backtrack to see if I had missed something, and then disappointing in that I wished fate would have pounced on transgressors. Perhaps this ending was more realistic in that aspect than wish-fulfilling.

All in all, an excellent debut novel.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.


rating

4-butterflies

4 out of 5 butterflies


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