Daughters of the Lake
Daughters of the Lake is a contemporary family drama set in Switzerland. Madalena invites her four adult children to celebrate her hotel's fortieth anniversary, unaware of their tensions and secrets. As the day of the celebration approaches, confused emotions take hold, and the occasion goes badly wrong. Set against a backdrop of mountains and lakes, this is a story of love, betrayal and family conflict.
Family relationships can often be full of tension, and never more so than when each family member is harbouring a secret. This is certainly true of the Fontana family, who are all together for the first time since their father’s funeral five years ago. The story spans a couple of weeks when the four disparate grown-up children of Madalena gather together in Brunnen, Switzerland to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the hotel she and her late husband built into a thriving business next to the lake of the book title.
There are four siblings: Portia, Vienne, Annie and Lawrence. The story is written in third person from the points of view of the three sisters and their mother, with each chapter from the POV of one of them. The dialogue cleverly gives the reader a feel for how all the characters view and respond to the situation – this is very well done.
Portia is the eldest. She is a successful barrister, although she is unable to be so decisive and confident in her personal life. Within a short time of her being in Brunnen, she finds out her thirteen-year-old daughter Lucy has been expelled from school and is being put on a plane to join her mother – the very last thing Portia wants. This provides tension in the novel – between Portia and Lucy, and Portia and other members of her family. Lucy is spoilt and bratty, alternately childlike and trying to be grown up; she is hurting from her parents’ divorce, aware that secrets are being kept from her and is longing to be loved and liked. I wanted to give Portia a good talking-to about her parenting skills and her selfishness.
Vienne is a successful concert pianist. She is married to Michael, who is with her in Switzerland. Vienne is needy, self-centred and a worrier. She is aware that her marriage has cracks but is too afraid to confront them and is all too willing to believe everything her husband tells her. Occasionally she shows a bit of metal and I urged her to act on her instincts, but it seems she would rather live with the flaws than find the strength to do something about them. Michael is a complicated character who I couldn’t quite get to the bottom of – sometimes he is dismissive of his wife and sometimes he is tender, and I wasn’t sure which was the real him, or whether both or neither were.
Annie is strong, but she has just come out of a relationship with pregnant Ferne. Annie is devastated by the split and the chance to be a mother, but is confused still by her sexuality. She is less egocentric than her siblings.
Madalane is my favourite character. She loves all her children but can see their faults, although less so with her son. She has her own secrets but has come to understand herself much better and is looking for a new start. Her only obstacle now is telling her children about it. Her friend Karl is lovely, and wise.
We don’t see much of Lawrence, but he too has a secret. He is in his early forties, but sometimes seems more of a child than Lucy is.
There are other, minor characters. Ruth and Alice are two regular summer residents of the hotel. They could quite easily have become caricatures, but the author doesn’t allow this to happen. They are great secondary characters and it is heartening to see how the whole family are quite tender towards them despite their own self-centred lives.
I love the descriptions of the town and countryside of Switzerland. The setting is very much a part of the story and almost as important as the characterisation of the protagonists.
The story is told at quite a slow pace, but that seems entirely fitting. The writing very well depicts the tensions between the family members and portrays the complexities of their characters without informing the reader directly. Some of the dialogue is a little stilted, but its hopping about sometimes is redolent of many family conversations – where questions are unanswered and there are seemingly as many conversations happening as people present. I like that for its realism and also how it conveys the dynamics between the speakers. Despite their betrayals and jealousies and disapprovals, we see how they love one another as only family members can.
Sometimes the tensions build but fizzle out. There are lots of little explosions, but no big bang. This left me feeling a little unsatisfied, but reflects real life. There are no really loose endings and although I want that in my reading, I felt that everybody had rather too neatly got the next phase of their lives sorted, even if I think some of them are making mistakes.
The more I think about this book the more I like it, and I certainly would be happy to recommend it to people who like reading about relationships. I look forward to reading more from Jane Riddell.
Editorial Input & Design
This is well edited and proofread. I think I would have suggested having one story line that was a little less sure of itself, to give some real tension to the book.
It’s a gorgeous picture, but I don’t think the typography does it justice. It is also slightly old-fashioned, which although lovely in itself doesn’t prepare the reader for the modern story inside.
I read this on a Kindle and had no problems. My only real criticism is that some en-dashes were left as hyphens – not the worst of crimes!
Book Clubs & Reviews
This would make a good book club choice. There would be plenty to discuss about relationships – siblings, children/parents, marriage. The individuals’ storylines would provide good discussion points and there could be a fair amount of character dissection.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 4.6 stars (19 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it 4.4 stars (11 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 4.11 stars (9 ratings).