The Au Pair
by Emma Rous
Length: 384 Pages
Release date: January 8, 2019
Publisher: Berkley Books
A grand estate, terrible secrets, and a young woman who bears witness to it all. If V. C. Andrews and Kate Morton had a literary love child, Emma Rous’ The Au Pair would be it.
Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.
Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is beautifully dressed, smiling serenely, and holding just one baby.
Who is the child and what really happened that day?
One person knows the truth, if only Seraphine can find her.
The publisher compares The Au Pair to the work of V. C. Andrews, and with the gothic horror vibe of the story, I get where that comes from. Honestly, though, I found myself thinking more of Lifetime movies while reading. It’s definitely the epitome of guilty pleasure reading, and Rous has no issues with straining the limits of credulity of her readers.
The plot is fun and the atmosphere is mildly creepy, particularly in the flashback scenes to Laura’s timeline. I definitely think that of the two timelines, Laura’s story was stronger than Seraphine’s. Watching things spiral out of control at Summerbourne due in large part to Ruth’s selfishness and instability was infinitely more engaging than watching Seraphine learn about these events years after the face.
The overall story is suspenseful but does feel rather shallow. Rous attempts to do something deeper by exploring themes of identity and family (i.e., the question of whether blood matters more than who raised you) but never really gets anywhere meaningful or evocative in that regard. Seraphine spends most of the book questioning whether her parents were really her parents at all, whether her supposed twin brother is even related to her. With the closeness of a twin relationship in particular, family is very central to Seraphine’s sense of identity. There’s never really any gradual shift in this regard. Blood matters very much to Seraphine… until it simply doesn’t anymore.
Overall, this was a fun read with loads of suspense and mystery but with twists that can border on the ridiculous at times. The Au Pair is the ultimate brain candy: the perfect book to binge when you’re looking for an easy, entertaining read.
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