Title: THE WRITING RETREAT
Author: Julia Bartz
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Read: February 2023
Expected publication: 2 March 2023
My Rating: 🌟🌟
But when the attendees arrive, Roza drops a bombshell—they must all complete an entire novel from scratch during the next month, and the author of the best one will receive a life-changing seven-figure publishing deal. Determined to win this seemingly impossible contest, Alex buckles down and tries to ignore the strange happenings at the estate, including Roza’s erratic behavior, Wren’s cruel mind games, and the alleged haunting of the mansion itself. But when one of the writers vanishes during a snowstorm, Alex realizes that something very sinister is afoot. With the clock running out, she’s desperate to discover the truth and save herself.
A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of friendships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.
I think that I am about two decades too old for this story! The premise of THE WRITING RETREAT immediately appealed to me – I love stories about writers and the “book within a book” theme, especially if it also contains a remote, atmospheric setting. Bartz’s novel has all that, plus some intriguing friendship dynamics that most of us will be able to relate to, because who hasn’t ever had a fallout with a best friend and had to suffer the heartbreak and awkward moments that follow. I was fully engaged in the story up to the moment the group of young writers were pitched against one another, each trying to write the story that would catch Roza Vallo’s eye and land them a publishing deal.
Then things started going wrong for me. Even before the story took a turn into the realm of the unbelievable, I felt that Alex as a main character was inconsistent and quite frankly a mess! In fact, the whole group of women acted like a bunch of boarding school teenagers rather than the almost-30’s they were described as. I am neither a fan of the “I was drugged so I acted out of character” theme that excused some of the bizarre behaviour, nor of explicit sex scenes thrown in just for – what exactly? Shock value? At times I felt like the author was trying too hard to include multiple themes (feminism, LBGTQ, peer pressure, friendship issues, supernatural themes, etc) without properly including them into her characterisations and storyline. The “book within a book” also didn’t fit in with the main story and distracted from the trying-to-be-claustrophobic atmosphere rather than add to it.
I conclude this review by conceding that I am probably not the right audience for this novel, because from the halfway point onwards it was just a struggle to stay connected. I am definitely an outlier here, so if you find the premise as intriguing as I did, give it a go and make up your own mind.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.