Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))
The Retreat by Mark Edwards – Book Details
TITLE – The Retreat
AUTHOR – Mark Edwards
YEAR PUBLISHED – 2018
PAGE COUNT – 356
MY RATING – 4.5 of 5
RATED ON GOODREADS – 4.07 of 5
What It Is About
It was a stone house, painted white, with a steep tiled roof. […] The kind of place that looked like it would always be cold inside, no matter how many fires you lit.
[…] It was the perfect place to write a scary book.
Julia refuses to believe her daughter Lily is dead. Two years ago, her husband lost his life trying to save Lily from drowning in a river. But Lily’s body was never found.
Desperately trying to stay in the area and make the ends meet, Julia converted her house into a writers’ retreat.
Lucas, a horror novelist, visits the retreat, hoping it would help him with writing his new book. But little Lily’s story intrigues him and he soon becomes inclined to believe Julia might be right.
After all, it is very clear strange things are happening in and around the retreat. Would it really be such a stretch of imagination to think Lily might still be alive?
Or is it really, like many believe, Lily’s ghost who’s hunting the house?
The Retreat by Mark Edwards – My Review
“You pretty much have the run of the house, except…can I just ask you not to go into the basement? It’s not…safe.”
It’s really hard to talk about this book without spoiling anything. Whatever I say, whatever I compare it with, I feel like I’d said too much. At the same time, the story was for the most part unlike anything I’ve read before. Which makes me want to just tell you everything… But let’s try and not ruin it for you.
There were many small things that made this book an absolutely enjoyable experience for me.
The story was more a mystery and suspense than thriller or horror. The plot was slow burn, complex, with many details. It had a very low spooky factor. It relied more on creating an unsettling atmosphere where you are not sure whom (or what) you can trust.
The whole book was very atmospheric, intriguing and immersive. I wouldn’t exactly call it gothic, although it did have a few elements of gothic horror.
“This place is amazing.” I nodded towards the swing. The wind had caught it so it swung slowly to and fro, as if being used by a tired ghost.
The setting was creepy, unsettling. The tragic past that casts suspicious shadows onto everyone and everything. A remote location surrounded by foggy woods at the outskirts of a small town where everyone knows everyone.
And scary stories that’d been frightening children for generations. And maybe a few adults as well.
Because in this little place there is a local legend that says there’s a witch in the woods. The witch requires a child to be sacrificed every thirty five years, or she would come and get one. The last child to go missing is the retreat owner’s daughter Lily.
I thought it was really clever how the author played with and entwined into the plot well known childhood fears about haunted houses, ghosts and mythical creatures.
She hadn’t realized how foggy it was until she moved away from the house. […] There was no way Lily would go into those woods on her own, especially when it was foggy like that.
She didn’t want the Widow to get her.
And then, a writers’ retreat in the midst of it all. A bunch of novelists with their overactive imagination, trying to make some progress with their latest books.
The tension was almost palpable, even without the case of a possibly dead child in the house’s history.
You can imagine the rivalry, frustration and competitiveness that can arise when you put these people together. Even before they started to feel they might be in danger. Before them trying to figure out whom to point their fingers to.
And then the truly weird stuff started to occur. Misplaced objects. Weird noises. A child’s voice singing in the night. Stories about witches. And a deep, dark, looming forest that surrounds the retreat, that may or may not have been a scene of several crimes.
And if, to all of that, there is a horror novelist who’ve already written a book about children gone missing and whose mind naturally leans towards creating monsters out of shadows… Well, all I’m saying is – I don’t think that kind of man would need a lot for his imagination to go wild.
Perhaps if I hadn’t written a book about vanishing children, if my imagination didn’t tend towards the macabre, the gothic, I might have gone along with the obvious: that Lily had drowned in the river and, for whatever reason, the police couldn’t find her body.
The characters were shady. Imperfect. I wouldn’t exactly call them unlovable (respect to the exceptions), as I very much felt for several of them. But you definitely don’t know whom you can trust.
But my absolute favorite part of this book was that I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The whole time I was banging my head and came up with nothing.
It might be a murder mystery or a missing person case. It might be a ghost story. A local urban legend made people believe weird things, they could have taken things too far. And, of course, there was a possibility that someone had lost their mind and was seeing a very distorted version of reality.
I kept turning it all in my head, weighing the clues, comparing details… It made the whole thing very engaging and intriguing.
She turned her head to scrutinize the painting, which now looked perfectly normal. Nothing shifted, no one whispered.
And that ending seems to be very polarizing, people either love it or hate it. Personally, I liked how the story was wrapped. I guess you could argue the revelation was quite implausible, and I’d agree it was a bit over the top.
But then – this is a fiction book, not everything needs to be 100% realistic. And the ending made for a really good story and probably one of my favorite mysteries I’ve read in the last several years.
Lily’s room. That’s where the singing was coming from, just as before. Now, in the silence of the night, it was clearer – but I couldn’t make out the words.
I tried switching between physical and audio copy of this book, and the narrator really wasn’t bad. But in my opinion, The Retreat is definitely a book meant to be read physically, curled up in your favorite blanket and with a cup of steaming tea nearby.
A perfect fall read in my opinion. If your October or November TBR isn’t full yet, I can only warmly recommend that you add The Retreat by Mark Edwards to your list…