Haunting Book: The Lake House, by Kate Morton

lake-house-book-coverThe Lake House was another book I read this past year that played with my sense of time and intrigued me from both a writer’s and a reader’s perspective. The story in this novel takes place in three different time periods—in 2003 London detective Sadie Sparrow investigates a cold case while on leave at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall after a career crisis; in the 1930s a baby boy disappears from a nearby estate; and before World War I a couple meets and falls in love.

The eponymous lake house provides a common setting in these three time periods. It is an old estate near Sadie’s grandfather’s house, where the Edevane family lived from before World War I and from which the youngest Edevane child, eleven-month-old Theo, disappeared. The description of Sadie’s discovering of the old Edevane mansion is worthy of Dickens in Great Expectations. The house is vine-covered, crumbling, yet eerily preserved despite its layers of dust—it was obviously abandoned for some traumatic reason. The house ties the time periods together and often provides a context for the time shifts from present to past.

The only other Kate Morton novel I’ve read was The Secret Keeper. That book also was great on atmospheric details. Other readers have said they liked Morton’s earlier books better, but I preferred The Lake House. This novel is slow-paced, but I enjoyed the lush descriptions. Plus, I sympathized with the female narrators—the detective Sadie, teen-aged Alice Edevane, and Alice’s mother Eleanor—and I wanted to find out what happened to Theo, so I kept reading.

Some readers have complained that the ending of The Lake House was too tidy. I can see their point, but I enjoyed the journey so much that I won’t downgrade the novel too much for its wrap-up.

SPOILER ALERT — DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS

When Sadie leaves London in disgrace after mishandling a missing person case in London, she retreats to her grandfather’s small home in Cornwall. She discovers Loeanneth (the old Edevane mansion) in ruins, and then learns that baby Theo had disappeared in the 1930s—a mystery that was never solved. For lack of anything better to do and to prove to herself that she is a good detective, Sadie investigates Theo’s disappearance.

Sadie learns that Theo—who had just learned to walk—vanished from his crib while his nanny slept nearby. Theo was never found, and the family never knew if he died or was kidnapped. The loss of Theo so devastated the family that a few months later they left Loeanneth and never returned. Hence, the mansion’s deterioration.

In the course of her unauthorized investigation of this cold case, Sadie meets Theo’s older sister, Alice Edevane. Alice became a famous mystery writer and is now quite elderly. Alice has suspicions about what happened when she was sixteen, and she feels some guilt for Theo’s disappearance because of her own actions that night.

The characters in The Lake House were well-developed, including Sadie, her grandfather Bertie, Alice, Eleanor, and many of the Cornwall neighbors in both the past and present. I particularly liked the different perspectives Morton gives us of the female characters—of Alice at sixteen and as an elderly woman, of her mother Eleanor as a teenager and as a mature wife and mother, and even of Constance (Eleanor’s mother) as she ages.

I also liked the depiction of Edwardian England and of a way of life now lost—actually, there were two old generations depicted, first Alice’s parents and their families before WWI, and then Alice’s own youth in the 1930s. The losses the English gentry incurred through the Great War were neatly capsulized in the Edevane family’s experiences, including the shell shock (which we now call PTSD) of soldiers engulfed in the war.

This was a mystery with many possible paths, and the several potential villains in Theo’s disappearance kept me wondering. I did figure part of it out as the book wound down, and that part felt like a “right” ending. Another aspect of the ending bothered me as too pat, but still provided some closure. The ending was a little rushed for such a long book, but it satisfied me by tying up the loose ends. (Frankly, if Morton had tightened up the earlier parts of her novel—which felt slow albeit lyrical—the ending wouldn’t have seemed rushed.)

After experiencing two of Morton’s novels, I definitely want to read the rest of them. When will I find the time?

Are there authors whose works you want to devour? List your favorite in the comments.

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