Book review: The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donoghue
The Temple House Vanishing - Rachel Donoghue
The title of Rachel Donoghue's debut novel suggests a mystery and there is indeed the unresolved incident of a student who disappeared from the Catholic girls school 25 years ago. There's another kind of mystery here however in The Temple House Vanishing and that's the mystery of feelings that it's possible only to reflect on and understand to some extent much later and at a distance, but by then of course it's too late to do anything to change what has happened.
There are two parts then or two mysteries to be resolved in The Temple House Vanishing. In one of the sections Louisa recounts her first impressions and experience of arriving at Temple House, a Catholic girls boarding school. It's 1990, but the rather Victorian building and wild coastal location on the edge of a cliff seems to be firmly rooted in the past. It's not just the nuns that run the school according to strict rules, but the prefects also have an authoritarian hand in making Louisa's life uncomfortable.
It was always going to be difficult for Lousia. She doesn't come from a wealthy family like the rest of the students, but is there at Temple House on a scholarship as an exceptionally bright student. When she attends the art class of the rather young, good looking and bohemian Mr Lavelle however, Louisa finds an environment that appeals to her, finding there a like-minded friend or soul-mate in Victoria, a fellow student who seems to have a close easy-going connection with the charming Mr Lavelle.
After reading these impressions of a 16 year old girl on a voyage of self-discovery, it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover suddenly that after only a few months at Temple House, Louisa is the missing schoolgirl who disappeared at the same time as Mr Lavelle. Nothing has been heard about either of them ever again. but 25 years later in 2015, a journalist tries to contact people who knew Louisa and who were at Temple House at the time, of her disappearance to try and understand what might have happened.
After such a long time with no trace of Louisa or Mr Lavelle, it seems like the mystery of their vanishing is unlikely to ever be resolved at least as far as the journalist is concerned. For the reader however, Louisa's story continues and the whole entanglement of feelings and events that led up to her disappearance are all laid out. And there is someone else who knows what happened who can lead the journalist closer to the truth, but after all this time would they?
Although there is very definitely an intriguing mystery to resolve in the disappearance of Louisa, the strengths of The Temple House Vanishing don't lie so much in the conventional thriller genre. It is very much more interested in the mystery of understanding life, feelings, making mistakes and learning to cope or live with them. Donoghue's writing explores this beautifully, without romanticism, using that reflection of making the past present to put everything perfectly into place without losing any of the raw youthful emotions that are overwhelmed by life-changing feelings and events.