The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue

Review by Rose

Some people have a part of them that is untamed and unruly : they emit a sort of a seismic vibration . There are many reasons for the storm that lingers just behind the eyes. Early childhood, life events or perhaps a personality trait passed through the generations like a little tempest in their DNA . Mr Lavelle the art teacher is such a person. He is the bohemian intellectual with an edgy side, a young man who cannot follow the rules of society or even the regulations of his job. He may use language like ‘I’m a free spirit’ but such terms have a price for anyone who is looking for lasting love . These people are often drifters; unable to attach to one person they prefer the adoration of many. He calls himself a shaman, a person capable of unravelling the secrets of the soul while feeding teenage girls’ existential sentences to ponder into the darkest of nights. The problem is he is lighting matches and throwing them into a room packed with paper, without comprehending the destruction he is causing.

This mystery is drenched in atmosphere . Temple House is a gothic Catholic boarding school run by strict nuns that talk of sin and damnation yet favour the wealthier students. We are introduced to a wise intelligent scholarship student who does not fit into the regime and is desperate to be loved, possibly the most dangerous vulnerability in this setting. The art teacher enjoys breaking rules and ignores the strictness of the order. He has a strange cabinet of curiosities that includes a small skull, a tiny heart, and a dead tarantula. He asks the teenage girl to choose an object they feel a connection to and write an essay about it. Every word he speaks seems to have a deeper intention, a philosophical underbelly. He is effortlessly beautiful which only creates more problems when he pushes his ideas into the minds of naïve students. One would imagine that small talk would be like doses of arsenic to this young man. He wants more than polite conversation, something from the inner soul, he wants the secrets and the lost loves and the aching nostalgia. He does not fit into the British social behaviours. He is also weak, unable to help himself and basking in the attention and adoration of specific favourite schoolgirls.

Rachel Donohue conjures from imagination characters that are haunted and characters that truly haunt. This story is about the pain and intensity of love found in adolescence when teenage girls are on a journey of self-discovery and hormones are racing faster than 140 beats per minute. It is also about the fear of losing someone of a loved one in the teenage years, the misunderstanding another’s feelings, and loving the wrong person. Something that can cause an agony so painful it can damage a person.

Louisa, the scholarship girl, understands the art teachers personality more than others, she sees his cowardice and his foolishness when he gives girls attention at the school, but still feels a level of empathy for him, enough to let him run once the fire has raged.

A female journalist takes us on a journey to find clues to a twenty-five-year-old mystery, a missing teacher and schoolgirl twenty-five years earlier. We are then taken back to the events at Temple House.

Every character is haunted in this novel, the journalist on the trail of the missing schoolgirl is a lonely isolated female, searching for something in her own life underneath the story of a disappearance. Victoria, the girl who was closest to the missing girl and teacher is haunted by traumatic events from the past and is not living the life she imagined she would as an adult. The old man who lost his only daughter disappearing into a reclusive existence.

There is a poetic beauty to the descriptions of place, of feelings and of emotions. There are some modern references to crimes that I thought were unnecessary, especially the story of the slender man and the schoolgirls who believed a character found on the internet was real. But apart from that, it’s a wonderful story that focuses on the confusions and weaknesses of human beings and the traumatic feeling of love and misconstruing love, when there may be nothing in the other person but an iceberg of destruction.