Verhoef, Esther – ‘Rendezvous’ (translated by Alexander Smith)
Paperback: 336 pages (Mar. 2011) Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc ISBN: 0857381342
Simone, her husband Eric and their two small children leave The Netherlands to settle in the south of France, where they have bought a huge ruin of a house with the dream of converting it to a hotel. Simone is ambivalent at best about the move, but Eric, a “businessman” who seems to have pots of money, is very keen. On arrival on a wet autumn day, the family is a bit dismayed at the state of their new property, previously seen in the beautiful spring. Undeterred, Eric buys a caravan for them all to live in while they find builders to start the long process of conversion.
Before long, Eric employs a local firm owned and managed by Peter, and Simone finds herself running around after her children, making elaborate lunches for the crew of builders, and doing many domestic errands (she gave up working after her first child was born). She’s dissatisfied, being homesick as well as not being that happy in her marriage which we are led to believe she has embarked on more to please her ambitious mother than anything else. Soon, Simone finds herself attracted to one of the builders, and is torn about what to do. We know she will get into serious trouble as most chapters of the book end with a section describing Simone’s ordeal after being imprisoned by the police – evidently a crime has occurred but we do not know what until near the end of the story.
Although a pleasant account of the pleasures and pitfalls of renovating a house, RENDEZVOUS suffers from the fact that Simone is passive, and not a likeable person – she seems to expect others to provide her life with interest rather than finding her own niche. She complains of being lonely but when she meets other people she isn’t interested in being friendly. The novel is told from her perspective, so it isn’t that easy for this reader to maintain sympathy in the absence of other points of view or subject matter. The crime aspects of RENDEZVOUS are limited to the end of the novel; most of its appeal depends on the readers’ knowledge that something is going to go wrong but not being sure what. However, a dearth of suspects or possibilities does not create much of an atmosphere of suspense. I think this novel will be enjoyed more by those who like romantic fiction, rather than by die-hard crime-fiction fans, though it is certainly a readable book.