- Book: The Family Retreat
- Location: Dorset
- Author: Bev Thomas
I was drawn to this novel when I saw an informed review of the novel, describing it as full of psychological ‘aha’ moments. And it is. In the review it said that it has “an astuteness that most other books would miss, whatever their genre….”
Jess is a GP in the East End of London and a mother of two young children. From the outset, the reader is aware that her professional behaviour has been questionable of late, and so she is taking a break. Gradually, as the story progresses, it becomes clear what has happened and how her responses – conditioned by her experiences within her own family – have brought about a level of misjudgement that has affected her clinical work. Rob, her husband, organises a few weeks in a rental cottage in Dorset. It’s away from the daily pressures of work but stuffed, as they all are, into a tiny cottage, her role in the family is brought into sharp relief. Rob then has to depart unexpectedly on an urgent work assignment, so Mum and the two young children are left to manage daily life.
Jess communicates on a weekly basis with a therapist via the internet, having to go to a neighbour’s house where the signal is better. She befriends her neighbour Helen, who, similarly has two children, and the four young off-spring spend time together, trawling the beaches with their mothers. As the friendship grows, Helen starts to confide in Jess, sharing personal information. Meanwhile, Jess is struggling to piece together the snippets of information around the increasingly erratic behaviour exhibited by her father, whilst also still being sharply aware of her own sister’s mental health issues. It is a complex family dynamic that Jess understands but is forced to confront as she tries and keeps all the plates spinning.
We look back at Jess’s past issues and we also know that events will unfold in the near future which will affect everyone in this small hamlet.
The storyline moves along, exploring the residual emotional impact of childhood and how it informs adult behaviour. It is indeed convincing and high level psychological drama and that feels real and intelligently put together.