Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Corvus
Power. Jealousy. Desire.
Twenty-five years ago, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl and her charismatic teacher disappeared without trace…
When Louisa arrives at Temple House, an elite catholic boarding school, she quickly finds herself drawn to sophisticated fellow pupil Victoria and their young bohemian art teacher, Mr Lavelle. The three of them form a bond that seems to offer an escape from the repressive regime of the nuns who run the cloistered school. Until Louisa and Mr Lavelle suddenly vanish.
Years later, a journalist with a childhood connection to Louisa determines to resolve the mystery. Her search for the truth will uncover a tragic, mercurial tale of suppressed desire and long-buried secrets. It will shatter lives and lay a lost soul to rest.
The Temple House Vanishing is a stunning, intensely atmospheric novel of unrequited longing, dark obsession and unintended consequences.
The Temple House Vanishing is not a straightforward murder mystery whodunit. If that’s what you are looking for, then this isn’t the book for you. What it is though, is a wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully written novel that takes the febrile existence of a group of teenage girls and parlays it into a story of weakness combining with obsession.
Taking place between two timelines, the nineties when Louisa, the missing girl was at boarding school and the present day, this is an investigation by a journalist into what really happened when a teacher and a pupil disappeared from the school. The story is narrated by the journalist, who had a tangential connection to Louisa and by Louisa herself, as she looks back and relates her impressions of that time.
Louisa hasn’t had much fun growing up; her parents divorced and she is a lonely child, but bright and has won a scholarship to a prestigious all girls Catholic School, Temple House. Louisa quickly discovers that it isn’t a lot of fun being the poor girl amidst the ranks of the entitled and most of the girls look down on her and are anything but friendly.
The one place she feels relaxed is in the summer house where the art classes take place. The art teacher, Mr Lavelle is young and exudes a bohemian air. Constantly smoking, with a cabinet of curiosities that he asks the girls to choose an object from that will be their special identifier, he makes his female pupils feel special, and some feel more special than others.
Victoria comes from money and she seems to Louisa to be so poised. Despite her worldliness, she takes to Louisa and makes a friend of her, allowing her insights into Victoria’s dreams and desires. Louisa has never had a friend, especially not one like Victoria and she is completely smitten.
The art teacher is the centrifuge for a story that takes a group of young women just coming into their own skins who find themselves surrounded by nuns and one, single, almost handsome man. There’s something about that harsh school house set on a bleak cliff top and the rigid discipline of the nuns that enhances the tension and counterpoints the rising libido that abounds in this book.
Rachel Donohue creates a rich, intense, almost cloying atmosphere in which to play out the details of her story and we can imagine what impact the raging hormones have on the behaviour of these girls. We begin to understand that this situation is fertile ground for forbidden fruit. Secrets and lies’ jealousy and obsession loom large and no-one behaves well.
The narrative switches back and forth between the journalist investigating the story, now 25 years old, and Louisa, telling her own story. Not all these characters are likeable and that helps to make them feel more real but it is naïve Louisa to whom we feel drawn and for whom we must feel sorry, for she is an ingénue in a maelstrom of an already bubbling power struggle.
Verdict: A fantastically assured debut novel with an atmospheric, rich and intense storyline that is haunting and evocative and keeps the reader intelligently gripped until the very end.
Rachel Donohue won the overall Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year award, as well as the Emerging Fiction prize, in February 2017. From Dublin and with a background in communications and PR, Rachel’s short stories have been published in the Irish Times, Irish Independent and on RTE.ie.