Book Review – Daughters of the Lake

This is a book review for Daughters of the Lake by Jane Riddell, available here:

I received this book from the author in return for an honest review. In the interests of honesty, I should say that this is not my usual type of read, so is perhaps somewhere out of left field for those of you that read my reviews.

The story centres around a family reunion in Lucerne, Switzerland. Madalena, the mother, has invited her four (adult) children to a family dinner and, as each character arrives, you realise that they all have secrets.

The surroundings themselves are described beautifully enough that they make the reader want to visit Switzerland. They’re written with a degree of familiarity and warmth that makes the landscape almost another character in the book. There’s a very real sense that all of the characters, with the exception of Madalena, struggle with their roots, which is stark contrast to the beauty of those roots and provides a nice counterpoint to the story. This is most vividly expressed in Madalena’s fears about the home she is setting up away from the hotel.

The thing with this book is that it’s less of a story and more of a character study of an incredibly dysfunctional family as all the strings of their deceptions and secrets begin to unravel. The thing that really struck me about this book is that, with the exception of Madalena and (sometimes) Annie, all of the main characters are really unpleasant people. It takes some skill to write such awful people and still keep the reader engaged with what’s happening to them, so I take my hat off to Ms Riddell. My assessment of the characters may sound harsh, but they are what they are. Portia is a mother with a dark secret of betrayal that threatens a cataclysmic rupture in the very fabric of the family. She’s failing at controlling her daughter, Lucy, and often seems unable to cope with the situation she has built for herself. Lucy is also deeply unpleasant. She’s rude to her mother, out of control in her behaviour and often very selfish. Despite knowing that she has her reasons for the way she behaves, it doesn’t make it any less inexcusable. Michael is another selfish character who has very little about him to redeem himself. He, like Portia, has a secret betrayal of enough magnitude to rock the family. Michael’s wife, Vienne, is probably the character I liked least of all of them. She’s a self-obsessed, paranoid hypochondriac and her behaviour was bizarre to say the least. Her level of self-absorption was astronomical and I found her sections of the book quite difficult to read. Laurence sort of redeemed himself a little bit. I had thought at first that his actions were designed to hurt his mother, but then his own dark secrets emerge later in the book and you learn that his actions stem from something much deeper. Still, that dark secret is one that paints him in an unpleasant light, despite his misplaced guilt.

In contrast, Madalena is the one trying to hold it all together, while trying to tell them that she has a secret of her own. She’s a good woman and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her. Karl is nice and Annie seems to be the peace keeper between her siblings, the figurative emotional Switzerland.

As events unfold, there’s a real sense of tension as you wonder which secrets will be exposed to the light and which characters will walk away intact from the experience. There are moments where you, as a reader, feel very emotionally invested with the story, particularly as events come to a head with Lucy. If you have one of those families with a black sheep or two, there are many aspects of this story that will ring a bell of familiarity with you.

The book is well edited, which was good to see.

In all, this is not an easy, light-hearted or fluffy read. It’s an intense experience, but one I would recommend. If you enjoyed The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling I would suggest that you may enjoy this book.

I give it 4* out of 5*.

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