The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

Brits abroad…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Aura and Nick have left England and the thing that happened there behind to create an idyllic new life in France, in an old run-down château which they intend to renovate and run as a posh B&B, or chambres d’hôtes, as Aura likes to call it, proving she has mastered at least three words of French. With them they bring their not-at-all-pretentiously-named sons, Sorrel and Bay, and a film crew, consisting of Seb and Chloe, who are filming the family for inclusion in a fly-on-the-wall series about Brits making new lives as ex-pats in France. Joining the merry throng is Helen from HappyHelp, an organisation that matches up backpackers with families who give them bed and board in return for a few hours work each day (or as Chloe puts it, an unpaid au pair). But the thing that happened in London casts long shadows. Nick and Aura’s marriage is on a knife-edge, and the strange things that begin happening as soon as they arrive add to the tension. And then there’s a murder…

I’m so inconsistent about this kind of thriller that even I don’t know what it is that sometimes makes one work for me, when others quickly get thrown at the wall. This is written in present tense from a variety of first person viewpoints and has the dreaded “that day” aspect of something that happened in the past looming over the present but the reader being kept in the dark nearly the whole way through as to what exactly happened back then, and the plot crosses the credibility line about a hundred times. So I ought to have hated it. And yet…

I think it’s mainly because Aura and Nick are so awful that they become funny, and I felt that that was deliberate on the part of the author. Aura in particular is one of these dreadful types who prides herself on having all the right attitudes, while in fact being swayed by every ludicrous fad that hits her social media feed. And, of course, like the climate warriors who jet around from protest to protest, or the social justice warriors who campaign against victimisation by victimising strangers on Twitter, her attitudes are shallow, self-serving and optional. I loved the occasional line Cooper would throw into Aura’s monologues that showed both her superficiality and lack of self-awareness – some of them made me laugh out loud…

I felt a whoosh of relief – as a semi-vegetarian I don’t think I could cope with getting rid of a dead rabbit.

…or…

Bay is simply adorable dressed as a pumpkin – I try not to think about the poor kid who must have slaved over his costume in some godforsaken sweatshop, but sometimes needs must.

Nick is also pretty awful but in a different way, and honestly, while I try very hard not to blame women for the faults of their men, I couldn’t help having some sympathy for him. Being married to Aura would have tested any man to the limits. However, I can’t go into detail about what puts Nick into the awful bracket because that would impinge on the thing that happened back in England. Suffice it to say, my sympathy for him only went so far.

Although murder and some dark deeds form parts of the plot, the story is quite lightly told for the most part, surprisingly so at times. One plot strand in particular involves a teenager, and has an air almost of innocence around it, in comparison to the standard fare of most thrillers of today. While I got a little tired of the fact that sixteen-year-old Ella thinks of nothing but boys, ever, I felt she thought of them in a way that was pretty true to her age. In a sense, I felt it gave the book a Young Adult vibe – unusually for me with contemporary thrillers, I’d be quite comfortable with the idea of mid-teens reading this one. There is some swearing, but not too much, and some sex, but not graphic. The one thing Aura and I have in common is that we are both prudes and prefer to look away when people are getting up to hanky-panky!

Catherine Cooper

The other aspect that amused me (and I do hope it was supposed to) was the awful ex-pat community, all socialising with each other and having as little to do with actual French people as possible. Aura, of course, speaks no French at all but really doesn’t see it as essential when she can always get other people to do things for her. I laughed again when she said in the same sentence that she wanted Sorrel and Bay to grow up bi-lingual and that she intended to home school them. I guess the two languages would be English and Pretentious then!

It’s a quick read and not one that requires a great deal of concentration to keep on top of the storyline. So despite myself, I found it entertaining – a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a few lazy hours.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

Amazon UK Link
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37 thoughts on “The Chateau by Catherine Cooper

  1. Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree abput this one. Yes, the characters were farcically OTT horrible but I think we were supposed to take things seriously too as a crime thriller and it failed utterly in that respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, the ending became utterly over the top! I reckon on another day I could easily have ended up feeling the same way you did, but somehow it caught me just when I was in the mood for something I didn’t feel I could take too seriously.

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  2. This sounds like the kind of book I might come across (at someone else’s place) and pick up and enjoy on its own terms, but not one I’d seek out. I’m glad it had some redeeming features for you.

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    • I’d never have sought it out either but that’s why I quite like that HarperCollins send me random books from time to time. They push me out of my usual zone and, though a lot of them get abandoned quickly, I’m often surprised by the ones I end up enjoying!

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  3. Hmm, I wonder what was the germ of an idea that put this in the author’s head? Surely it couldn’t be the long-running Channel 4 series ‘Escape to the Château’ in which ex-pats Dick and Angel Strawbridge bring up their two kids in a Gothic Revival French moated castle with a film crew in attendance following their protracted restoration of the edifice? Surely not…

    Still, this sounds fun, and with a different outcome from l’actualité. (See? I know a few French words too! 🙂)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, yes, I kinda hope it was that that inspired her, because I believe she’s an ex-pat living in France too and I’m so hoping it wasn’t based on her own life! 😉 Ooh la la, you’re nearly as fluent as moi!

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  4. I’m glad this more or less worked for you, even with the something that happened in the past trope, it is such a lazy, over-used means of creating tension and mystery. The characters do sound awful, but at least you were able to find them amusing.

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    • I know, that trope is usually enough to stop me reading, but somehow the awful Aura trapped me in her web! Haha, I’m sure it depends on mood as much as anything – on another day I could easily imagine me having hated this one.

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  5. Ah, that ‘thing that happened’ trope! That’s usually enough to make me stop reading right there, FictionFan. But it sounds as though it didn’t completely spoil the read for you here. And I had to laugh at the sort of character who spouts certain views, but is completely hypocritical about them at the same time. I can see what you mean about playing this for laughs in certain places. I like it that its focus is the ex-pat community, too. That can be interesting in and of itself. At any rate, glad you found plenty to like here.

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    • Me too, Margot, and I think a lot of it is a matter of mood – I can easily imagine that on a different day I’d have quickly abandoned this one. But Aura made me laugh with her awfulness, and I found I was caught in her web! 😉 And I did enjoy how she skewered those ex-pats who go to a country with no intention of actually having anything to do with the natives Sadly there are lots of Brit communities like that all over Europe. No wonder they hate us… 😂

      Liked by 1 person

    • On another day I may well have stopped reading to, but the awful Aura sucked me into her web! 😉 Yes, I though the teenagers in this one were done really believably and appropriate to their age.

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    • Yes, and so long as I can feel the author intended me to laugh at the characters then it can be quite fun! I’m sure it’s a matter of mood – on another day I may have been so irritated by the “that day” thing I’d have abandoned it, but it worked on the day!

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  6. The characters sound hilarious! The plot is very right now, too with many tv shows at present seem based on a camera crew following someone around (I LOVE House Hunters International and in the space of 20 minutes fall in love with a country, a house and a lifestyle that I wouldn’t have found on a map before the show started). It reminded me of Escape to the Château too, although I don’t watch it (have to draw the line somewhere and there are so many books to read).

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    • Haha, I used to watch loads of these house shows and imagine myself living in exotic locations! And I do feel anyone who allows a camera crew to follow them around must be a little crazy – the awful Aura certainly was!

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  7. I read the blurb for this and thought it sounded awful, but I didn’t realise there was humour running through it. It sounds a fun read if you’re in the right mood. I’m not sure I could spend too much time with those dreadful characters though!

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    • I spent the first few chapters convinced I’d be abandoning it soon, and then found the awful Aura had sucked me into her web! I do think it’s a matter of mood – on another day I can imagine me having hated this, but it got me just when I was in the mood for something not to be taken too seriously. 😀

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  8. I think I’ve grudgingly accepted that lots of thrillers, for many years, will include the ‘that day’ form of suspense. I don’t think there’s any escaping it in this genre, we just have to get over it, which you’ve done here. I’m still working on it, but it’s getting easier…

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