Hold My Place was a book that fell short of its creepy potential. I expected it to be twisty, and it was to an extent, but it still left me feeling dissatisfied.
Sigrun is a librarian who becomes totally besotted with a sophisticated chef, Edgar Leyward. She signs up for cooking classes at his restaurant. Edgar too, it appears, reciprocates her feelings, and treats her with greater attention, but does not initiate any physical intimacy. He makes it clear that he is a married man and that he is deeply in love with Octavia, his wife.
When Octavia dies of Covid, Sigrun is anxious to comfort Edgar and make sure that he doesn’t give in to his grief. She moves into his life and his home. They get married just six weeks later.
One day, Sigrun, looking through his study, discovers the shrine he has made to all his loves. She comes to know that Octavia was not his first wife, nor the first loved one he has lost. Before Octavia, he was married to Brigitte, who died of breast cancer, and before that, he was engaged to Devlin, who died of a fall while they were on a trek. All three women had untimely and early deaths.
Edgar shares the letters that all three women had written to him. Sigrun begins to read Octavia’s letters, then Brigitte’s and lastly, Devlin’s, hoping to better understand Edgar. While the handwriting naturally differs, Sigrun comes to know of some disturbing similarities between the letters.
While the similarity of thoughts and ideas evokes a mild sense of alarm, Sigrun finds her own personality strangely altering, drifting away into that of another woman. The tug is almost hypnotic. Until some words in Devlin’s letter wake her up to the harsh truth. And if one day our spell seems to have lost its power, I’ll find another door to the room where you are. Nothing, certainly not anything so common and crass as death, will ever divide us.
The book is written mostly in the first person past tense of Sigrun. While the first person PoV allows us to get to know a character intimately, the author spent too long acquainting Sigrun with the three women in Edgar’s life. Too much time was spent on the build-up of the letters.
The story had the potential to be really creepy but none of it came through. The promise of the blurb came about after far too long, and was left mostly unexplored.
The near-constant rain and the vague sense of menace created a sense of impending gloom. Just when it feels like something that might be better suited to a time in the past, the author roots the book in today’s times by telling us that The horror story of our age had already begun… A new sickness ravaging the east. But with our typical blithe American arrogance… we assumed it would never reach us. There is a lengthy bit about Covid that spells too-much-information about something we know all too well, and loosened the grip on the story somewhat. I suppose the author was trying to juxtapose the tumult in her own life against the tumult and confusion that the coronavirus brought in its wake.
While the commentary about Covid was written in beautiful prose, the author should have “killed” her darlings, since the horror of Covid detracted from the horror of the story.
It is clear that there is something forbidding about Edgar. His love for the women in his life is all-encompassing, yet it somehow seems unreal. The affair feels, to Sigrun, inexorable, darker than blood, swifter than thought, colder than a corpse.
Edgar is described as handsome and elegant, and Sigrun is totally enamoured, but the man was still uninteresting to me.
Did I like Sigrun? No. There just wasn’t enough to like. Heavily tattooed and goth in her choice of clothing and makeup, Sigrun is a mass of contradictions and far from the image of the stereotypical mousy librarian.
She tells us that she loves to read paranormal romances. We never actually see her reading them. She should have been fleshed out better. Nor did I like Edgar or the other women. None of them were real. The only person I liked, and not too much at that, was Evan. But he didn’t occupy too much space in the book.
I found it odd that other than Octavia, none of the characters were endowed with surnames. It made the characters feel unsubstantial. Edgar’s surname, Leyward, is actually Octavia’s. Of course, we couldn’t be sure about it. In Chapters 1, 3, 4 and 5, there were a total of six references to the name, Leyward. In Chapter 9, the name changed to Leyman.
The restaurant where Edgar is a chef, serving French-Asian cuisine, is called La Table in ten places, and then La Place in three places.
There were other errors. One character says, “We all metamorphosize, don’t we?” That word should have been metamorphose. One of Evan’s five texts to Sigrun sounds as if it were written by her.
The pace was too slow. We spend a lot of time reading the letters written by the three women, and I got the feeling that the author deliberately drowned us in those letters, while not letting us know enough about what was happening between Sigrun and Edgar.
As late as the 82 percent mark, things were still okay for Sigrun. The sense of alarm had not become clear, and she wasn’t in any physical danger yet. The only danger was that she was caught up in the myth of Edgar, and was willing to lose herself to be his love for ever.
The first sign of real fear shows up only at the 86 percent mark. At the 91 percent mark, we see the first traces of what the blurb had warned us about, but it’s neither scary nor impressive. The book takes far too long to deliver on its promise, and when it does, it’s wrapped up so swiftly that we don’t know what hit us. Sure, there’s a twist, a weird one, one that I didn’t expect after the Prologue, but there’s no time to process it at all.
(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley)