Twenty five years after Louisa, a scholarship student at a posh Irish boarding school, disappears with teacher Mr. Lavelle, a journalist investigates the case. In alternating points of view, this debut novel explores the mind of troubled Louisa and the intrepid reporter.
... an evocation of gothic horror. While the dread never overwhelms, the sense that characters are haunted by what is happening at the school is felt from the moment that Louisa, the scholarship student, arrives ... In an atmosphere where the cacophony of teenage hormones blares amid a community of nuns who have directed their passion toward the religious life, Donohue adds to the sense of shambolic emotions at play with skillful pacing. And as the wind sings through the cracks in the old windows, ghost stories are born.
Through the alternating narratives the author gradually ratchets up the tension in an impressively well-controlled way. It is this gradual building up of the complexities of the plot, and the slowly emerging insights into her characters’ personalities and motivations, which made this such a compelling read for me. Each time I began to feel confident that I knew the direction the story was taking, she would introduce unexpected, yet entirely credible, twists which would force me to re-think my assumptions! Her skill at doing this certainly did much to contribute to the psychological authenticity of the story, something which was reinforced by the brilliant epilogue ... This is a hauntingly atmospheric, reflective and, at times, deeply sad and disturbing story and is one which I found almost impossible to put down. As a debut novel, it is particularly impressive so I’ll be looking forward to whatever Rachel Donohue writes next.
Donohue quickly tugs her story down a deeper, darker path, exploring what happens when power and jealousy go head-to-head with the complexities and extremes of teenage longing and desire ... The Temple House Vanishing opens on a significant character’s death; a brave move that pays off perfectly. From there Donohue slips back and forward, deftly folding and unfolding past and present. Occasionally the plot feels constrained by its role in this shape-shifting ... Donohue works a tight cast of characters well. The school’s nuns make their presence felt as a thunderous cloud hovering low overhead rather than as individuals ... Lavelle is referred to more than once as 'the hollow man'. Because we encounter him only through his students’ eyes or in epigrammatic comments of his own in class, such vagueness around him is true to the story-telling but it has the effect of rendering him insubstantial, and his actions around the major incident at the heart of the novel are not entirely convincing ... Donohue is a master of clean, sharp prose, and has a hugely impressive ability to create layers of atmosphere or ratchet up tension in a couple of beguilingly simple sentences.