I’ve devoured this book, as I simply couldn’t put it down. Now I feel like I’ve cheated myself because I would have liked to have made it last so much longer. It was excellent.
A missing child. A desperate mother. And a house full of secrets.
Two years ago, Julia lost her family in a tragic accident. Her husband drowned trying to save their daughter, Lily, in the river near their rural home. But the little girl’s body was never found—and Julia believes Lily is somehow still alive.
Alone and broke, Julia opens her house as a writers’ retreat. One of the first guests is Lucas, a horror novelist, who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Lily. But within days of his arrival, the peace of the retreat is shattered by a series of eerie events.
When Lucas’s investigation leads him and Julia into the woods, they discover a dark secret—a secret that someone will do anything to protect…
What really happened that day by the river? Why was Lily never found? And who, or what, is haunting the retreat?
I chose The Retreat as my prize, after I won a book voucher from the lovely Facebook book club of which I am a member (The Fiction Café Book Club – if you love reading, writing, or both, join up. It’s the friendliest corner of the Internet). When I posted my choice of book, I was inundated with enthusiasm from fellow members, telling me how great it was.
So, I abandoned The Old Curiosity Shop (Dickens, you’ve never failed me before, but blimey, I got bogged down and fed up with this one), quickly read my Netgalley book as the deadline approached, and without further ado, opened The Retreat.
The book cover is wonderfully sinister, and by the time I had read the first page, I knew I was in the capable hands of someone who really knows how to write.
Our narrator is the horror writer, Lucas Radcliffe. He has written one successful book, and, suffering from writer’s block and a looming deadline for his next one, he books in to a writers’ retreat, near where he was born, in Wales.
The cottage is an old, cold, odd place, and is remote enough to give Lucas some confidence that this will be the ideal spot to work on his writing, despite the worrying development when he learns that the house is a ‘dry’ one. The other writers who are sharing the retreat are down at the pub at the time Lucas is meeting Julia Marsh, the owner of the house. The scene is being set at this point for a chilling tale, as there are some Bluebeard’s rooms in the cottage, which are creepily out of bounds. By the time, the other writers return, I had almost convinced myself that this was going to be like The Haunting of Hill House, and they were going to be supernaturally bumped off, one after the other. (Not a spoiler. Didn’t happen.)
Quick side note: One adjective which is woefully underused, although I hadn’t realised until I read this book, is ‘buttery’, particularly when not used to describe a knife which has been used to spread butter. The author uses it to describe the walls in the cottage, and this gave me a quick jolt of memory. I used to live in a 200-year-old cottage, with my boyfriend at the time. It was in the village where I grew up, and when I was a child, it had been the Post Office, where a very old lady used to shakily dispense our family allowance. When I moved in, as an adult, the walls were indeed buttery. Not only that, but I used to wake up in the night and smell pipe smoke in the bedroom. Things went bump, day and night, and there were the proverbial cold spots. I’m not a believer in ghosts or the supernatural, and so I assigned these things to rational sources. However, this adjective alone, made me think of all these experiences, and I admit, gave me a bit of a chill down my spine.
Lucas discovers, sort of accidentally, about the loss of Julia’s family. Once he plucks up the courage to ask her about it, he finds himself on a path to find out what happened.
Poking around in the past, though, doesn’t seem to suit the cottage, and the eerie occurrences start, and unsettle the residents.
The story is deliciously terrifying, but our narrator is rational, providing a great balance, and propelling the plot forwards, as one ominous discovery leads to another, and another. Grief, sadness and slow healing, are also handled beautifully.
Yesterday afternoon, I was totally absorbed in the story and had to break myself away from it to make the dinner and get the kids in bed etc. My husband also went to bed early, so I settled back down with The Retreat at about 9pm. At 11:30 pm, the room I was sitting in went cold, suddenly. The plot was at a point where I was a bit scared. I put the book down and went to bed. I didn’t run though. I didn’t.
Because, obviously, the heating went off an hour earlier, and it’s January, so naturally it got a bit cold. Yep.
So, the same thought woke me this morning as I had when I first went to bed. What really happened to little Lily Marsh?
We know from the outset that she didn’t drown as the police investigation concluded.
I’ll end this review with one of my favourite quotes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle;
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
And to make a story as good as The Retreat, yet to make the above true, is an amazing skill and must be the result of meticulous planning.
It’s an absolute triumph, I loved it. I want to read it again, but I can’t! There is too much reading to do. I will however comfort myself with the fact that Mark Edwards has written many more. I can’t wait!