The French House
by Courtney Lochner
Calumet Editions

"The more I chipped away at what I wanted to believe a masterpiece, the more I worried I’d come across something else."

The protagonist of this novel is Simone Duchamps, a French American starting her first semester of college. Though Simone initially plans to commute to campus each day from her family’s vineyard, she learns that native French speakers can receive a scholarship to live in The French House. The house, with its rich wood paneling, gourmet dinners, and wine served regardless of residents’ age, is designed to simulate the experience of studying abroad in France. Simone comes to feel at home there, despite whispered rumors of multiple tragic deaths connected to the building. Eventually, the past begins to catch up with Simone and The French House, and she discovers that not all of the tragedy is behind them.

This novel skillfully combines the genres of thriller and dark academia. Simone’s enigmatic professor and intellectual but secretive friend group paint The French House as dark and haunting. Simone knows that there are many mysteries surrounding The French House and the people in it, but hesitates to ruin her new life by digging too deeply. Simone herself is a delightfully unreliable narrator, as in the very first chapter when she decides to stop taking her psychiatric medication to be able to experience college life in a more immersive manner. Simone’s memories are disjointed and occasionally conflicting, causing unexpected but exciting plot twists.

The story effortlessly balances seemingly disparate themes, including the cultural vestiges of the CIA’s controversial Project MKUltra, French literature, racism, winemaking, and mushroom foraging. Though these threads may seem unconnected, the author deftly weaves them all together into a thrilling, chilling tale exploring mind control, fractured families, and how crimes from the past can affect the present and future.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Short List book

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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