The Splendour Falls ~ Susanna Kearsley

  • Title: The Splendour Falls 
  • Author: Susanna Kearsley
  • Genre: Mainstream, Mystery
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Chinon: château of legend, steeped in the history of France and England. It is to Chinon that Emily goes on a long-awaited holiday, to meet her charming but unreliable cousin, Harry. Harry wanted to explore the old town and the castle, where Queen Isabelle, child bride of King John, had withstood the siege of Chinon many centuries ago, and where, according to legend, she hid her casket of jewels. But when Emily arrives at her hotel she finds that Harry has disappeared, and as she tries to find him she becomes involved with some of the other guests and learns of a mystery dating from the German occupation during the Second World War. Another Isabelle, a chambermaid at the hotel, fell in love with a German soldier, with tragic results.

Emily becomes increasingly aware of strange tensions, old enmities and new loves; as she explores the city, with its labyrinthine dungeons and tunnels and its ancient secrets, she comes ever closer to the mystery of what happened to both the Isabelles of Chinon’s history.

Review:  A very lyrical story, this novel is slow and introspective. On occasion, the narration rambles aimlessly among medieval streets and their denizens or stops altogether to contemplate a mystical treasure or a human folly. Personally, I prefer more action and less woolgathering, but in case of this novel, the author took the only possible approach. She invested most of her skills in her characters.

They’re alive and diverse, a fascinating bunch, each one with his or her distinct personality, although none of them appeared substantive to me. Like the novel’s situational landscape, the characters are dreamlike. I’ve never met such people in real life. They’re all a bit too literary, indigenous to the fictional world the author had created, but not the world I live in. Maybe I live in the wrong world? Or maybe the protagonist’s worldview is decidedly different from mine.

The plot of this novel seemed unnecessary, almost accidental. Emily, the protagonist, is a young British woman, on vacation in France. The entire story revolves around her leisurely stay in an old hotel and her wandering around the small tourist town of Chinon. There is a mystery there too and a couple of murders as well, but those lines didn’t seem organic to the story. The integrity of the novel would’ve been served better without them.

On the other hand, the historical vignettes grafted into the modern day tale feel natural. They enrich the story and deepen its emotional impact, and so do the numerous poetic descriptions of people and locations.

The only description that is lacking is that of the protagonist. Unlike most of the secondary characters, who are portrayed in detail: clothes and eye color, mannerisms and professions, Emily is an enigma. I don’t know how she looks or what she does for a living. I don’t know her back story either, and my lack of knowledge hampers my understanding of her inner conflicts. Sometimes, Emily’s dilemmas feel as obscure and incomprehensible as the problems of another, minor character – a French queen who died 700 years ago.

Despite this little quirk, the writer’s language is beautiful, inviting the reader to relax and enjoy the muted, pastel flow of her story. And I did enjoy this novel, although I won’t ever re-read it. 

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