Published: July 7th, 2022
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Suspense, Coming-of-Age Story
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook
Happy Publication Day to this atmospheric and compelling novel. Thank you to Quercus for the invitation to take part in this social media blast and the gifted copy of the book.
Amidst the glamour of the French Riviera lies the crumbling façade of Chateau de Sètes, a small slice of France still held by the British aristocracy. But this long since abandoned chateau is now up for sale, and two people are desperate to get their hands on it despite its terrible history.
Summer, 1985: Ruby has stayed at the chateau with her family every summer of her twelve years. It was her favourite place to be, away from the strictures of her formal childhood, but this year uninvited guests have descended, and everything is about to change…
As the intense August heat cloaks the chateau, the adults within start to lose sight of themselves. Old disputes are thrown back and forth, tempers rise, morals loosen, and darkness begins to creep around them all. Ruby and her two young friends soon discover it is best not to be seen or heard as the summer spirals down to one fateful night and an incident that can never be undone…
Summer, 2010: One of the three young girls, now grown and newly widowed, returns to the chateau, and in her fight to free herself from its grip, she uncovers what truly happened that long, dark summer.
With riveting psychological complexity, The Ruins captures the glittering allure of the Mediterranean, and the dark shadows that wait beneath the surface.
“She pictured three girls bound tightly together in the back seat of the car, holding each other. Their hot breath, clammy palms, and her overshadowing fear of the man at the front, the man driving. “
The Ruins is a story about family, secrets, legacy and trauma that explores the events of a long, dark summer that can’t be forgotten. Behind the idyll of a beautiful chateau in the French Riviera and the scorching heat of the summer sun are dark shadows, cracks in the bright façade, and things hurtle towards that fateful night that can never be undone…
The book opens with a note from the author warning the reader of what we are about to read and offering those who would rather stay away from the dark but timely subject matter on these pages. I think this was a good move as it serves as both a content warning and sets the tone for what’s to come. Then comes the prologue with all of its ominous intrigue and the scene is set for this hauntingly atmospheric novel that I couldn’t put down.
“When was it, she asked herself, that her youthful joy turned sour, when this strange exterior rose up and crystallised around her? She knew exactly. It was that summer.”
Though I have her debut on my shelves, this was my first time reading one of Phoebe Wynne’s books. Her writing is alluring, immersive and almost dreamlike, making me feel like there was a haze that lingered over every word as I read. The subject she examines in this story is a timely but difficult one that feels all too human and familiar. Wynne writes with understanding, sensitivity and honesty, making it hard to read in places but never gratuitous. I also liked how she wove Greek Mythology into the story. Wynne cleverly uses them as an analogy of what is happening that summer and as someone who loves the myths it made the story all the more enjoyable to read.
“All the stories from that summer had haunted her – all those women, tossed about for the desire and ambition of their male counterparts. Those had seemed to repeat themselves through her life, like some infectious, cruel joke.”
This layered and nuanced story is composed of dual timelines that are expertly plotted and paced to keep you guessing. As the events of the summer of 1985 slowly unfold we move between timelines, jumping forward to 2010 when one of the young girls has returned to France to confront the trauma that has haunted her all these years. There is an air of foreboding and mystery in this timeline that adds a sinister tension to the past narrative as we try to guess what happened all those years ago. The author seamlessly weaves the narratives together, making them collide in unexpected ways. And that ending! A punch-to-the-gut finale that made me gasp out loud in shock and horror.
“Mrs Cosgrove woke up agitated; she had dreamed about the château again. That grand house perched by the water, tinged with sunlight and heat. The memory of it was permanently lodged in her mind, like an azure blue aneurysm, sharp and painful with every blink.”
There is a cast of vividly drawn and recognisable characters, of which the adults are hideous, possessing few redeeming qualities and displaying monstrous behaviour that is a stark contrast to the innocence of the young girls. Our young protagonist, Ruby, lives in a time when children are expected to blindly obey their elders and be seen and not heard and the adults’ abhorrent behaviour is protected by this, as well as a culture of secrets, shame, propriety and obedience. The fear, isolation and claustrophobia that the girls feel is palpable and it is impossible not to feel horrified at the lack of parental care given to these children and how terribly each of them was failed by the adults they trusted. I wanted to leap into the book and rescue each of them from their nightmare.
Unnerving, tense and compelling, The Ruins is an important and thought-provoking novel that I highly recommend. I now intend to prioritise Ms. Wynne’s debut which is screaming at me from my shelves even louder after reading this.
TW: Sexual abuse
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Phoebe Wynne studied Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London and Education at King’s College, London. She worked in education for eight years, teaching Classics in the south of England as well as English Language and Literature in Paris, France. Phoebe left the classroom to focus on her writing; she went on to hone her craft in writing classes in Los Angeles and in London. Phoebe has dual British and French nationality and spends her time between England and France. ‘MADAM’ is her debut novel.
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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles Emma xxx
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