Book: “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliot
Publishing Info: Berkley Books, February 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: 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.
Review: Country weekends with friends are always so fun! The isolation, the quiet, the bonding time! It’s really just the perfect way to pass the time with people you like.
I will admit that I like the potential for drama that this kind of story brings. Usually a weekend away, especially in thrillers, means that secrets will come out, betrayals will happen, and someone will usually end up getting hurt, be it emotionally or even physically. Given my love for this kind of tale, my interest was piqued by “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliott. Especially since a drama filled weekend seems to have resulted in a body stuffed down a well, and a cast of players who are automatic suspects! That’s a recipe for a book that I REALLY want to read. But unfortunately, given my high hopes for “The French Girl”, when it kind of fell flat it hurt a bit more than it would have had my expectations not been as high as they were.
But first let’s talk about what I did like. Kate Chambers, our main character and therefore resident complex and flawed female presence, was a pretty good person to follow within this story. Yes, she has her flaws and her complexities and her moments where I wanted to shake her, but she was likable enough and relatable enough that I did care about how things were going to turn out for her. She’s trying to forget about the mess of a weekend that she and her university friends spent in France, in which her toxic boyfriend Sebastian cheated on her with Severine, the French girl who lived next door to the estate. To make matters a bit more complex, Severine ended up disappearing that weekend, shortly after Kate and her friends left, which has left a sense of mystery and anxiety to Kate and her life as it moved forward. So you can imagine how she felt after a body was found in the well on the property. As she is reunited with her old friends, specifically Tom, one of her best friends whom she fell away from after he got married, she starts to think that they are all suspects, and is worried that scrutiny will fall on her. Watching her make pretty realistic mistakes and choices was kind of a breath of fresh air, since a lot of the time you get protagonists who act completely nutty just to move the plot along and completely outside of the character that has been previously established. Kate never gets there, and I liked her all the more for it. Her interactions with those around her, especially Tom and her friend Lara, were fun for me as well.
But the problem I had with this book was within the plot and the mystery. Specifically, the fact that none of it (or at least very VERY little of it) takes place during that fateful weekend, and only within the period that the body has been found and during the subsequent investigation. True, we get mentions of things that went on, but it’s all through the characters in the present, and it also manages to knock a few suspects out of the way right off the bat. I had hoped that there would be in the moment insights into what happened that weekend, and that it would shed some light into the victim herself (whose presence is haunting Kate as the book goes on). But because we don’t get to see her in action, and only through the eyes of the others, we get no sense of her as a person, and she ends up feeling incredibly objectified. What’s more, we didn’t get any solid red herrings about potential motives and potential suspects, as moments of doubt felt quashed soon after they were introduced. I had no problem discerning what happened to Severine and who was responsible, as Elliott presented that character a certain way from the beginning that, to me, made it obvious as to whodunnit. And that’s not really fun for the reader, especially when the story is supposed to be about whodunnit. Because of this, I wasn’t really gripped at the edge of my seat as I read it, and my concern for Kate was the only thing that kept me going. Had she been any less appealing or interesting, I probably would have been very bored and disinterested. Characters are great, but a thriller/mystery needs to keep me interested with the action as well as the players.
“The French Girl” wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, and while I think that others would probably enjoy it more than I did, it could have been stronger. There was a lot of potential there that didn’t quite get reached. But it is refreshing to see a main character that I felt fully invested in.
Rating 6: Though the mystery did keep me wondering what was true and what wasn’t, I wish we’d seen more of the actual crime time line instead of the investigation after the fact.
“The French Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girl”, and “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared From The Train” (I guffawed at both of these list titles).
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