I liked the sound of this book, the intrigue about 2 girls infatuated by their art teacher, where one girl and the teacher disappeared 25 years ago. The unresolved mystery is revisited by a journalist trying to determine what happened all that time ago. It gave the impression that it would unravel a dark mystery, be unsettling and a good twist. For me, I am not sure it delivered though. It sets the scene in the present day and then dips in and out of the past to tell the story.

Essentially Louisa, a very clever 16 year old girl, who is offered a scholarship at Temple House but not accepted by any other girls there bar Victoria, who becomes her only friend. You get an early sense that you are seeing things through Louisa’s distorted and semi-selective lens. She isn’t able to interpret the interactions between the teacher, the prefect, Helen nor Victoria. For all her intelligence she doesn’t realise Victoria’s quiet moods were very dark in nature. It felt like a depiction of the other characters, the nuns, and the day to day life of an unpopular character at boarding school were missing when they needed to be incorporated to populate and nourish the story and characterisation.

None of the characters are particularly likeable or develop very much throughout the book, so the middle part was a little slow. There is a quiet reveal of the direction the story is going and some clever layering that only becomes evident as the story progresses. It was in parts predictable but nonetheless provides an unsettling and satisfying denouement. I guess the challenge in writing this type of fiction is that there have been many variations of this similar storyline, so it needs to be captivating and commanding to stand out. As a debut novel with promising signs that the writing quality will grow.

Sara Garland 3/5*

The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue
9781786499387 atlantic corvus ebook 20 Feb 2020