Title: The French Girl
Author: Lexie Elliott
Genre: Mystery, Fiction
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 stars)
They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway–until they met Severine, the girl next door.
For Kate Channing, Severine was an unwelcome presence, her inscrutable beauty undermining the close-knit group’s loyalties amid the already simmering tensions. And after a huge altercation on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. There are some things you can’t forgive, and there are some people you can’t forget, like Severine, who was never seen again.
Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine’s body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. Questioned along with her friends, Kate stands to lose everything she’s worked so hard to achieve as suspicion mounts around her. Desperate to resolve her own shifting memories and fearful she will be forever bound to the woman whose presence still haunts her, Kate finds herself buried under layers of deception with no one to set her free.
I look around the table again. It’s impossible not to think, as each face passes under my gaze, Was it you? Could you have done it? And, most disturbing of all, How far will you go to blame someone else?
The French Girl is a slow-burning, evocative mystery built off a premise I have so come to love: a catalyst in the present forcing characters to revisit a dark incident in their past and recolor it with new understandings. I was intrigued by the unique approach taken here, with a narrative anchored solely in the now and a greater focus on character dynamics than plot progression, but in the end, this book was a mediocre read for me – although that’s not to say it didn’t have its strengths.
Where The French Girl shines most is quite simply its writing style. It’s gorgeous and haunting. Everything is told from Kate’s perspective in the present, and since I’m used to this sort of plot bouncing between narrators and timelines, I will admit that this approach felt restricting at first. Nevertheless, the limited point of view came to be something that I appreciated. You really have the opportunity to immerse yourself in all of Kate’s frustrations as she tries to piece together the past. Her spotty memories are wonderfully hazy and disjointed; it feels like reaching out and trying to grab something only to have it slip between your fingers.
The plot is slow-moving – glacial, at times – but even that can be spun as a point in the book’s favor. It’s realistic. Ten years after the initial missing persons investigation, the stagnant pacing at the onset of the novel feels true to a murder investigation slowly gaining traction. It also gives us the space to do a deep-dive into Kate’s life; I loved how the investigation doesn’t take over her existence, not at first. Her insistence to keep it separate from her struggles to run a solo business is intriguing and far from what I’m used to in mystery novels where the mystery tends to quickly consume the entire plot.
Probably the most fascinating part of the book is Severine, the murdered girl, herself. News of the discovery of Severine’s body causes Kate to “see” her everywhere in a vivid, tell-tale heart-like fashion. I love that this enigma of a girl is personified more as a figment of Kate’s imagination in the present than she is in Kate’s memories. Severine never says a word, and yet her personality is crystal clear. It’s honestly quite chilling.
Despite all the small tidbits I enjoyed, I couldn’t really get over my main problem: that the slow pacing was never rewarded. It felt like the whole book was building up to something, like the calm before a storm, but it never quite got there. The revelations at the end didn’t seem hard-won or deserved. It’s an ending that doesn’t package everything up with tidy bows, which I can appreciate for its realism, but I still felt a little robbed of my time when I had turned the final page.
All in all, The French Girl isn’t my favorite read, but it’s a solid one. And it’s a strong debut for Lexie Elliott, who’s definitely caught my eye with her writing style. Can’t wait to see more from her in the future!
Warm thanks to Berkley Publishing for providing me with a review copy of The French Girl via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.