The Light Behind the Window
Lucinda Riley’s The Light Behind the Window is a romance that frequently pushes its sentimentality to the point of melodrama. Whereas Riley establishes early why we should empathize with poor, little rich girl Emilie de la Martinières, Emilie’s character is never fully developed. We are told she is a veterinarian, yet we never see her at the profession she chose at the risk of further estrangement from her mother. Emilie’s father, Édouard de la Martinières, the last of an old aristocratic French family, dies 16 years before the novel opens: in 1998, when Emilie’s aristocratic mother dies. With Emilie’s inheritance comes a myriad of decisions and challenges, one of which is whether to supervise the refurbishment of the old family chateau at the price of giving up her profession. Emilie’s choice to do so, influenced by Sebastian Carruthers and his offer of marriage, undermines the construction of a character who seems to have little agency.
In an alternate historical narrative, Sebastian’s grandmother, Constance Carruthers, trains with the British army in 1943, parachuting into the French countryside in order to aid the French Resistance. Due to unforeseen complications, she finds herself sitting out her assignment in the elegant Parisian home of Édouard, Emilie’s father and a seeming Nazi collaborator. It is this historical narrative that increases the novel’s tension the most. The conflict Emilie faces living in Sebastian’s Yorkshire home, sharing the old place with his younger, recalcitrant brother, rarely matches the cloak-and-dagger intrigues faced by Constance. The unraveling of wartime historical secrets in Emilie’s historical present offers few surprises in this plot-driven novel. Set in Paris, Provence, and Yorkshire, this book would appeal to those who love romance and European settings.