A treasure of Irish literary fiction set in DONEGAL
Thriller set in a luxury cabin just outside GLENCOE in the Scottish Highlands
4th April 2023
The Holiday Home by Daniel Hurst, thriller set in a luxury cabin just outside Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.
Nicola and Ryan, together with their 11 year old daughter, Emily, have been invited by Nicola’s best friend since 6th form, Kim, to join her and her husband Lewis and their 15 year old son, Cole. They will be heading to their newly acquired lodge for a long weekend in a remote setting just outside Glencoe. They all set off in a large car from Preston for the long journey North into the Scottish Highlands.
It is undoubtedly a house that was priced well into the 7 figure range, constructed of beautiful fireproofed wood, with a hot tub on the veranda and all mod cons. There is a sense that it is not Kim who wishes to show off their luxury purchase, but her husband, Lewis, who is seemingly forever climbing the greasy pole of business and personal achievement.
There is, however, friction between the male adults, which comes to a head early on in the weekend. Teenager Cole is caught downing a bottle of beer in his room, given to him by Ryan, against the express wishes of his father, Lewis. Upon discovering this misdemeanour, Lewis has a good old rant and hissy fit, and it feels like he has potentially quite an abusive relationship with Cole.
That night, as the families turn in, Nicola spots a text on her husband’s phone, and then overhears two other people talking. A life changing secret is revealed…
The second half of the story deals with how the characters come to terms with secrets revealed, and we know, right from the outset, that things are going to go very awry. The sound of a gunshot is mentioned in the first few pages.
The chapters are short and sharp, ending in small cliffhangers, which makes it a snappy read. Overall for me, however, this novel has just too many obvious devices to move the plot along. The characters speak to camera, as it were, ruminating and posing rhetorical questions, offering background and insights into the trajectory of each of the characters’ lives.
Sometimes the dynamics feel so stretched – mum Nicola yearns for Cole to be more attentive to their daughter, Emily, as there is only a 4 year age gap between the two, but a 15 year old wouldn’t by choice be seen dead (no pun intended) in the company an 11 year little girl, surely all adults know that (don’t they?). Cole, on the journey up, gets stroppy because his parents won’t switch the radio on – is this really a 15 year old without headphones and a music device? Not possible! Later we discover that he does, in fact, have a full playlist on his phone, so the episode in the car feels like a device to illustrate that he can be an annoying and grumpy teenager.
Emily has a meltdown because her first period arrives, totally unexpected, and Mum is summoned urgently from the hot tub to attend to her daughter. Nicola regrets (musing to herself) not having taken the time to explain puberty to her daughter. It is such a cliché and unrealistic representation, and it was a clear construct to get Mum out of the hot tub, just as she is going to share her suspicions gleaned the evening before. Then, those still remaining in the hot tub, go on to discuss THE major secret but – ahem – within Nicola’s earshot, just as she happens to be standing at the open window above the bubbling waters (hot tubs can be quite noisy, so it is surprising their voices carried, but anyway, this is fiction, so anything is possible…)
Later, the three males in the party set out on a trek to find somewhere where they can find a phone signal, given the internet is down at the house. The car has packed up, so they are in search of a mechanic – clearly no-one is a member of the AA or RAC (vehicle recovery companies). As the route march continues, it is fortuitous that Cole decides to spontaneously climb a tree (as you do), is then out of earshot, and this gives one of the husbands the opportunity to share a secret with the other husband.
The author does create a quite cloying and claustrophobic setting which ratchets up the tension and this works well.
It just all gets so ludicrous and circular, as the past is trawled and hypotheses about possible future developments are chewed through interminably. Round and round the implausible story goes. The characters never really mature and often feel 2 dimensional in their responses to any given situation. Anyway, there is a gunshot, which galvanises the characters into more fretful and agonised contemplation and action.
There are some notable irritations for grammar nerds (me included).
This author has a loyal following, so perhaps I will leave you to make up your own mind about The Holiday Home.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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