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The Temple House Vanishing: Love and longing in sublime coming-of-age mystery

Crime: The Temple House Vanishing

Rachel Donohue

Corvus, €15.99

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Gripping debut: Rachel Donohue. Picture by Shane O'Neill

Gripping debut: Rachel Donohue. Picture by Shane O'Neill

Gripping debut: Rachel Donohue. Picture by Shane O'Neill

Twenty-five years ago, 16-year-old schoolgirl Louisa arrived at Temple House, an elite Catholic boarding school deep in the Irish countryside. Attending as a scholarship girl, she's shunned by her grander fellow students and finds it hard to fit in. So, when the sophisticated Victoria takes her under her wing, Louisa is immediately drawn to her and the pair become inseparable.

The two teenagers soon become enamoured by their young and charismatic art teacher Mr Lavelle. All misfits in their own way, the three strike up an unorthodox friendship that offers them all much-needed respite from the authoritarian regime of the nuns who run the school.

However, the idyllic situation comes to an abrupt end when Louisa and Mr Lavelle vanish without trace. Victoria has no idea what happened to them or where they went, while outsiders just assume that Louisa and Mr Lavelle have run away to be together. The scandal results in the school closing down, and Victoria goes on to carve out a hugely successful career in the corporate industry.

The narrative then moves to the present day when a journalist with a childhood connection to Louisa sets out to try and solve the mystery. She tracks down Victoria and some other former Temple House pupils in a bid to piece together what really happened. Her search slowly uncovers a tragic tale of unrequited longing, teenage jealousies, obsession and a litany of unintended consequences.

The Temple House Vanishing is an evocative and mysterious coming-of-age tale that successfully combines sublime writing with an engaging plot and superbly drawn characters.

With strong literary overtones, it reads like a book that was penned by an experienced hand, yet it is Rachel Donohue's debut; she worked in the communications industry before turning her hand to writing.

This is already one of my books of the year. The winner of the 2017 Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, Donohue is a talented and welcome addition to the literary scene.

Sunday Indo Living