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The Au Pair


The Au Pair

For the entirety of their lives, Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother, Danny, have been known as the Summerbourne sprites. Born in the middle of summer at their wealthy family’s estate on the Norfolk coast, the twins’ arrival became the talk of the town when their mother threw herself off the cliffs shortly after their birth. As in any small town, rumors began to circulate, and soon stories of changelings, witches and something “not quite right” with the twins are woven into the mythos of the coastal town.

Now 25 and mourning the recent death of her father, Seraphine has moved into Summerbourne and is ready to finally ask what happened that fateful summer and learn the truth behind the colorful rumors. Combining domestic noir and gothic horror, Emma Rous’ THE AU PAIR is an atmospheric journey through shocking twists, horrifying secrets and the complicated tangle of dysfunctional family dynamics.

"THE AU PAIR is, without a doubt, a very well-written novel. Rous toys with her readers’ minds expertly, and her ability to juggle two perspectives over two timelines demonstrates a talent for pacing and big reveals."

The novel is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of 25-year-old Seraphine and, over two decades earlier, the titular au pair, 19-year-old Laura. When we meet Seraphine, she is going through her father’s belongings when she discovers a family portrait taken on the day she and Danny were born. There is one glaring issue with the photo: their smiling, happy mother is holding only one baby. For years Seraphine has struggled with the feeling that she does not belong. She looks nothing like her twin, and the townspeople’s penchant for telling fantastical stories about their birth does nothing to assuage her fears that perhaps she is not truly a Mayes after all. With her parents gone and her grandmother refusing to discuss her mother, Seraphine decides to track down the one other person who was there that tragic day: Laura.

Meanwhile, in the past, we watch as Laura joins the intimidating Mayes family to watch over their young son, Edwin. She learns that Edwin was originally a twin himself, but that his brother died tragically. It seems that twins do not do well at Summerbourne, though whether this is due to coincidence or foul play is unclear. As Laura comes to adore Edwin and grow close to his parents, Ruth and Dominic, and their best friend, Alex, she finds herself embroiled in their dysfunctional relationships, which seem to be piloted by Ruth’s emotional highs and lows. Their isolation at the family estate heightens the drama, and the knowledge that Ruth’s death is imminent adds a fast-paced element of thrill to the narrative, even during the family’s lazy summer days at the beach.

As Seraphine comes closer to finding Laura, she begins to receive threatening messages at Summerbourne warning her to stop asking questions before it’s too late. This ominous tone is in direct contrast to the seemingly idyllic summer that Laura spends at the estate, prompting the reader to ask what really happened to the Mayes family and what it means for Seraphine today.

In terms of characters, I believe that readers will really enjoy Laura. Her voice is intelligent, yet a bit naïve, and her life at Summerbourne is one of the more compelling elements of THE AU PAIR. I often found myself racing through Seraphine’s chapters to get back to the past to reunite with Laura and Edwin. Their isolation from both the main town and the other characters really throws them in sharp perspective and highlights the eerie atmosphere that is present throughout the story. These scenes reminded me most of V. C. Andrews’ writing, to which the novel has been compared. It is clear from these passages that Rous writes beautifully, and I would love to see her explore similar characters and settings in the future.

THE AU PAIR is, without a doubt, a very well-written novel. Rous toys with her readers’ minds expertly, and her ability to juggle two perspectives over two timelines demonstrates a talent for pacing and big reveals. That said, I believe that whether or not you will love or hate this book depends very much on your willingness to suspend your disbelief at some of the most important twists. Rous has crafted an intriguing and very twisty story, but its originality is weighed down a bit by the very dramatic (and perhaps too unbelievable) ending.

In terms of sheer pleasure and thrill, THE AU PAIR is a very good read, and one that I would easily recommend to thriller lovers, but I would love to see Rous pare down her plot points in future works and focus more on one big reveal. Her wonderful characters and distinctive settings deserve it.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 1, 2019

The Au Pair
by Emma Rous

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0440000459
  • ISBN-13: 9780440000457