Friday, August 24, 2018

So Moody...So Muddled: The Retreat

I've been putting off reading horror or strange fiction in favor of other interests that don't get as much attention - historical fiction, mystery - so I was eager to come back to my favorite genre, and started with a promising title, The Retreat. Though I don't normally read about writers experiencing things out of their own books, the premise of this book hooked me - a writer returns to his small, insular hometown in Wales to escape life's tragedies, but finds that the tragedies that prompted his parents to leave when he was young are repeating themselves again.

The story went in a lot of different directions. It's a haunted house story, because the writing retreat he's staying at showcases things disappearing and weird singing from inside the walls at night, emanating either from the room of a child gone missing two years ago, or the abandoned mine underneath the property.

The missing child who allegedly drowned in the river was never found; she is believed by the townsfolk to be the latest victim of the Red Widow, a local legend of a child-eating witch. The imagery for these aspects of the story were awesome, and I like the wrinkle that the townsfolk have traditionally offered sacrifices to her, children who will not be sorely missed, in order to protect their own kin. That put a grim veil over all the characters in the book that was much appreciated.

Then there are hints of what happened to the missing child two years ago from her own point of view, before, during, and after her disappearance. Without spoiling the book, I can say that we get more information about the town's secrets, in her past and in the Widow's long past, and not all of them are supernatural.

Oh, right. And then there's a spiritualist writer staying at the retreat, who knows things that she couldn't possibly know...or could she?

The mood of the writing - the bleak, tragedy-laden world of the characters, and the idea that there's more than one secret to uncover - that was rewarding. But on the other hand, the story pulled me in so many directions, and in the end it just couldn't hold it all together. There were too many story threads that get dropped in favor of other, more tropey, less enticing solutions. So the things that I liked the most, like the Red Widow, felt like a great concept that was underdeveloped, and therefore wasted on a story that went in a different direction. The book tried to do so much, and give you so many red herrings that it ended up unraveling the cohesion you feel in the first portions of the book when you're just digging your heels into the plot and gaining interest. Which is a shame.

K. Rating: 2.5/5

No comments:

Post a Comment