The Au Pair by Emma Rous
Rating: Rating: ★★★★☆
Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.
Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is beautifully dressed, smiling serenely, and holding just one baby.
Who is the child and what really happened that day?
One person knows the truth, if only Seraphine can find her.
If you haven’t already picked this one up, you need to add it to your summer TBR. This is the perfect book to read beneath a bright, cornflower blue sky. Preferably while sprawled out on a sandy beach or lounging beside a jewel-toned pool.
I devoured this in a single sitting, pausing (briefly) to text my fellow book bloggers about it. Weirdly, Khanh was also reading it. Also weirdly, we both got some serious Rebecca vibes from the book. While I only rated Rebecca two stars, it should be noted that if I was rating it for writing alone, it would have been a five-star read.
The Au Pair is dissimilar from that book in a lot of ways. The plots are different. The cast of characters too. The mood even. But there’s something about the setting that kept bringing to mind that famous opening line from Rebecca…
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
The story unfolds at Summerbourne house, a family manor perched atop a cliff face that looks out over the rocky British coastline. The home is almost a character unto itself throughout the story. There’s this inherent magic about the place that makes you want to walk through the front door, kick off your shoes, stroll barefoot out through the back garden, pausing only when you reach the cliffs.
The people who live there and visit it are just as alluring: a golden couple with dark secrets, a young woman desperate to make a new life for herself, a love-blind man, a girl growing up feeling as though she doesn’t belong, a controlling matriarch, a young man caught in the throes of wanderlust.
To me, this story was more about them than it was about the mystery. And I think that was intentional. This is told through dual perspectives, past and present, of two women forever attached to Summerborne. The former is the titular character, the au pair, Laura, while the latter is Seraphine, desperate to uncover what happened while Laura worked for her parents all those years ago.
I guessed at some of the “big reveal”, but it was clear that I was meant to. Seraphine is dogged in her search for the truth, and the reader is dragged along with her through all of the twists and turns of the past. And then the climax hit, and whoo boy. All of tension that had been slowly building throughout the story exploded over the pages, detonating each of these characters lives in ways I could never have fathomed.
If you’re in the mood for a slow-burn mystery with phenomenal characterization, I can’t recommend this enough.