A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi (A precipice in front, wolves behind)
This ominous warning graces a plaque on a cannon at the top of the cliff overlooking Summerborne House, the estate of The Mayes Family in Emma Rous’ exceptional debut novel, The Au Pair.
This family home is where Laura Silveira comes to work in the Fall of 1991 to help Ruth Mayes with the work of taking care of young Edwin. By the end of the following summer much will have happened – affecting both Laura and the entire Mayes family.
In August 2017, Seraphine Mayes is looking through the belongings of her recently – and quite unexpectedly – passed father, Dominic, when she stumbles upon a photograph of her mother holding a baby on Seraphine’s birthday – the same day that Ruth threw herself from the cliffs surrounding Summerbourne. There is just one small problem – Ruth is only holding one baby, when in fact, twins were born on that day. Reaching out to her twin bother, Danny, and their older sibling Edwin, Seraphine is shook to the core when no one can tell her why there is only one baby in the photograph. Because Seraphine begins to doubt everything she knows about her family, she quickly sets her mind to finding Laura, Edwin’s Au Pair, who also happened to disappear from Summerbourne on that same August day back in 1992.
This is the barest outline of a novel that only becomes more complex as Seraphine’s inquires expose more long-buried secrets. To say much more than this would become too spoiler-laden and risk ruining the reader’s enjoyment of discovery.
Suffice to say, Emma Rous has written a hell of a book; one that is compulsively readable, unexpectedly complex, and 100% satisfying. Chapters alternate between Seraphine’s present-day investigation and Laura’s accounting of her time working as the Mayes’ Au Pair. All of the characters – even those that might seem like minor players – are fully fleshed-out individuals who one might expect to meet within a quaint British village or on some palatial estate, assuming one were granted access to those upper echelons of society.
The Au Pair could easily have become a convoluted mess, but in the skilled hands of Emma Rous readers are guided with confidence and clarity through a labyrinthine maze of secrets and lies. This is a book to settle into for the long haul. Readers will quickly find themselves lost in this fictional world where trust changes direction like the wind and where identity and lineage are anything but a sure thing.
No doubt, reading this review, you have already come up with a theory on what happened and let me tell you, Emma Rous will cover those ideas very quickly within the book and then pull the rug out from under you once again. This is pure escapist fun. Remember those days watching television soap operas with your Grandmother? That is the experience of reading The Au Pair by Emma Rous.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.