Published by Pan, August 2012
Gassin, South of France, Spring 1998
Emilie felt the pressure on her hand relax and looked down at her mother. As she watched, it seemed that, whilst Valerie’s soul departed her body, the pain which had contorted her features was disappearing too, enabling Emilie to look past the emaciated face and remember the beauty her mother had once possessed.
Emilie de la Martiniéres has always fought against her aristocratic background, but after the death of her glamorous, distant mother, she finds herself alone in the world and sole inheritor of her grand childhood home in the south of France. An old notebook of poems leads her in search of the mysterious and beautiful Sophia, whose tragic love affair changed the course of her family history. As Emilie unravels the story, she too embarks on her own journey of discovery, realising that the château may provide clues to her own difficult past and finally unlock the future.
London 1943. A young office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is drafted into the SOE, arriving in occupied Paris during the climax of the conflict. Separated from her contact in her very first hours in France, she stumbles into the heart of a wealthy family who are caught up in a deadly game of secrets and lies. Forced to surrender her identity and all ties to her homeland and her beloved husband, Constance finds herself drawn into a complex web of deception, the repercussions of which will affect generations to come.
Lucinda Riley is a good old-fashioned story-teller who writes from the heart. The Light Behind the Window is her third novel and is an engaging read. Fans of Anita Shreve, Kate Morton and Amelia Carr should enjoy this book.
The Light Behind the Window is ambitious in its scope and technicality. Not only is there a split narrative between WW2 and the 1990s but the action is also divided between France and England, town and country. Riley weaves a deftly-crafted novel and threads it through with intrigue and tension galore, adding enough period detail for authenticity, but not too much to overwhelm.
Constance, the main character from the 1940s narrative, is plucked from her day job as a clerk and recruited into the Special Operatives Executive (also known as Churchill’s Secret Army). She rises to the task, knowing there is a great risk to her life if she passes the
training, which she does with flying colours. As she lands in France, her world is thrown into confusion and she must live by her wits.
Emilie has just lost her mother and has inherited a massive estate which includes a chateau in the south of France. She lacks self-esteem as she was neglected as a child, so she must learn to take control of her life. And then Sebastian comes along...
We know that Constance and Emilie are somehow connected to each other, despite the distance of time. We also suspect that the chateau and its library of rare books will play an important part. The dual time frame comes together nicely in the latter part of the novel and the final reveal brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.
The massive themes of love and war, betrayal and forgiveness and its large cast of characters - including two sets of twins - make The Light Behind the Window perfect for a TV drama. (I still remember Secret Army from the 1970s, the Belgian-based WW2 resistance series that was the inspiration for the parody sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo.)
If you like a ‘big’ novel with plenty of drama, suspense, narrative drive, twists and turns, and if you want a story with strong female characters, then read The Light Behind the Window.