Audiobook Review: The Au Pair by Emma Rous
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (January 8, 2019)
Length: 11 hrs and 31 mins
Narrators: Elizabeth Sastre, Nicola Barber
The Au Pair is the kind of book that will make you clutch your head afterward and think, what the hell did I just read? It’s confusing, it’s excessive, and it’s crazy, but to its credit, it’s also entirely well pleased and unashamed of its implausible, absurd premise. Are you okay with that? Because if you are, then this just might be the wildest, most entertaining family suspense drama you’ll read all year.
The story alternates between two viewpoints. The first is Seraphine Mayes, whose father was recently killed in a tragic accident. While sorting out through his belongings at their childhood home of Summerbourne in a quaint little village on the Norfolk coast, our protagonist and her brothers come across an old photograph that raises a lot of questions. For one thing, in the picture is their mother, Ruth, smiling and holding a newborn baby with her husband Dominic and oldest son Edwin, just moments after the family welcomed Seraphine and her twin Danny into the world. It is a happy scene, but the siblings know that within hours after this photo was taken, Ruth would be dead, having hurled herself off the cliffs in an apparent suicide. But if this picture was in fact captured that day, then why was there only one baby? Where was the other twin? Was it Seraphine or Danny that their mother was holding in her arms? And why did this beaming woman, looking so happy with her family, kill herself so soon afterwards?
Concerned that these questions would raise doubts about her parentage and jeopardize her chances of inheriting Summberbourne (Is she even Dominic and Ruth Mayes’ daughter? Is that why she’s always felt like she was on the outside, and why people are always saying she looks nothing like Edwin and Danny?), Seraphine begins a fervent investigation into the secrets of the family’s past. Her older brother, who was only a toddler at the time of their mother’s death, doesn’t remember much, but believes that the photo must have been taken by his au pair who worked at Summerbourne at the time. We get to learn more about this young woman, whose name was Laura, from her POV chapters flashing back to the past. Hired by the Mayeses to take care of Edwin, she was only with the family for a brief time, disappearing from their lives immediately after Ruth’s suicide. Convinced that Laura would know more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding her and her Danny’s birth as well as their mother’s death, Seraphine is determined to track down the former au pair despite pushback from her grandmother, who believes nothing good can come from dredging up the past.
Things begin like your typical mystery, presenting the details surrounding a puzzling situation, as well as all the characters involved and their relationships to each other (and it’s important to pay attention here, because all these connections are going to come back into play in a big way). The dual timelines, following Seraphine in the present and Laura in the past, are instrumental in providing the full picture, and though this slows down the pacing some, overall Emma Rous manages to keep the atmosphere of tension and suspense at a high level. One immediately gets the sense that Summerbourne is not as idyllic as it appears to be, the setting’s tranquil vibes and picturesque location belying the dark secrets hidden within. In the village, locals whisper of changeling legends and rumors about the Mayes’ curse. From Laura’s point-of-view, we also learn that despite outward appearances to the contrary, Dominic and Ruth had a troubled marriage. Discovering all this in the present, Seraphine becomes more and more obsessed with finding the truth.
However, things kind of take a nosedive in the second half of the novel, as the pieces of the puzzle start coming together. Depending on the type of reader you are, you might in fact take great pleasure in these sections (after all, if you’re a daredevil in a stunt plane, nosedives can indeed be exciting). At this point, the plot flies off the rails, becoming this ridiculously convoluted and tangled mess of family relationships while giving light to several implausible revelations that don’t really make sense, but you sort of have to go along with it anyway in order to find out the ending. To a certain extent, a plot twist only works if the reader has a fair chance to work it out, i.e. the author isn’t just pulling one out of her butt at the most crucial moment, but some of that was what I felt was happening here and it all just became a little too much to take.
Still, whatever else can be said about The Au Pair, it was certainly entertaining, and I can honestly say I did not see that ending coming. Despite my skepticism over everything playing out the way they did, I had a good time overall, and would recommend this book if you don’t mind suspending your disbelief for some overdone twists.
Audiobook Comments: The Au Pair audiobook features two narrators, Elizabeth Sastre and Nicola Barber, because the book features two points-of-view, Seraphine and Laura. I thought the voices of the two women should have been more distinctive, given the huge differences our characters’ personalities. However, other than that I had no complaints. The narrators’ performances were wonderful, and this was overall a good listen.