In some ways a great novel resembles a love affair. While it is going on you can think of nothing else and when it is over you feel bereft. The Chapel in the Woods is one such novel.
It begins with a car accident. Diane Lescure crashes her car on the very first day she arrives in the village of Saint Gabriel in rural France.
Diane's story is the main thread of the novel. She is English but married to a Frenchman, Serge, and with a young son, Ben. Her attempts to adapt to the extremely conservative life of rural France, and to be a perfect wife to her chauvinist husband seemed doomed to failure from the start. As she struggles to achieve the impossible, we are also given glimpses of other times.
The Canterbury monk, Edward, fleeing from retribution for his betrayal of the archbishop, arrived in the village in the late 12th century and was abandoned in the woods.
Hélène Godard, English but a fluent French speaker is parachuted into the village during the Second World War as an organiser for the Résistance.
These tales in the background threading in and out of the main narrative add depth and imagery to the story, each emphasising the narrow-minded attitudes of the villagers and the corruption of the local government. It seems that little has changed in the centuries between the events.
I loved each one.
It is rare to come across such accomplished writing. The skill with which Ms Louineau handles the three time frames is masterly. It appears effortless to the reader, as all great skill does.
I could not fault this novel. It is perfect in plot, pacing, characterisation and language. An absolute delight to read, and one of the very best books I have read in my life (and I have read thousands).
It is hard to believe that it is a first novel but I can find no record of her publishing any other work. I sincerely hope she intends to do so. I, for one, am hooked.