What it’s about:
They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway–until they met Severine, the girl next door.
For Kate Channing, Severine was an unwelcome presence, her inscrutable beauty undermining the close-knit group’s loyalties amid the already simmering tensions. And after a huge altercation on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. There are some things you can’t forgive, and there are some people you can’t forget, like Severine, who was never seen again.
Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine’s body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. Questioned along with her friends, Kate stands to lose everything she’s worked so hard to achieve as suspicion mounts around her. Desperate to resolve her own shifting memories and fearful she will be forever bound to the woman whose presence still haunts her, Kate finds herself buried under layers of deception with no one to set her free.
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In The French Girl , the ghost of a long-dead girl haunts Kate Channing, from whose point of view the story is told. I was suspicious of Kate Channing as the narrator; as possibly intended, I was convinced that she was responsible for Severine’s disappearance that summer ten years ago in France. Her jealousy and insecurity is apparent. She is part of a group of college chums, but she feels she is a fifth wheel. Her feelings are partially due to her less auspicious upbringing (relative to her posh friends) and partially due to everyone else’s relationships. Ultimately, she feels she is “less” –less beautiful, less successful, less popular, and less posh.
As the French police put pressure on the group, Severine’s “presence” in Claire’s life increases. Both the police and the enigmatic specter of Severine force Claire to rethink the sequence of events that summer and in doing so, she questions the motives of each friend and the possibility of their involvement in the girl’s death.
This thriller was nearly perfect for me. The steady pace allowed for the increasing tension to become palpable as doubt is cast upon all six of the friends. Ms. Elliott’s character development is excellent. There were three small plot points with which I struggled. Tom’s out-of-character reaction to a present-day encounter with a somewhat inebriated Claire seems only to be in place so the reader questions Tom as a possible suspect. Claire’s blindness to the obvious around her—both present day and in the past (no spoilers, so I won’t elaborate) are amazing given her obvious intelligence. Lastly, the implied paranormal interference at the story’s culmination detracted from the story…unless, the interference was merely a delusion of Claire’s. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Elliott’s thriller, but the ending was a bit dissatisfying. The epilogue to The French Girl made up for it though.
Don’t let the word girl in the title fool you into thinking this is another “Gone Girl” or “Girl on the Train”. That word and the genre are the only two things in common. Ms. Elliott’s The French Girl is a fantastic debut novel and an excellent mystery/thriller.
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