The Room by the Lake

Written by Emma Dibdin

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


The Room by the Lake
Head of Zeus
RRP: £14.99
Released: August 10 2017
HBK

Caitlin is lost. Unable to come to terms with her mother’s death, with her father’s alcoholism and the tyranny of the rat race, she has escaped to New York seeking solace and security. There she finds a fair substitute in a gorgeous hunk who carries her off to a remote house in the woods upstate where she anticipates a romantic idyll.

What she gets is a cult and even as cults go this one is marginally off-centre. The women are affectionate, the guru is charismatic; there is the obligatory mind-bending, and the Stockholm syndrome has Caitlin swiftly succumbing to the comforting mystique of the community, but something is wrong. Even on the basic level the diet is askew: to juxtapose organic fruits and nuts with barbecued steaks and chicken may be attributed to ignorance on the part of the leaders, but to fast regularly and for days, sustained only by rough cider, sends signals even to the most innocent reader.

 A pantomime situation has pantomime characters and there’s a traditional dark side but you have to wade through a lot of upstate bog before a slight deviation suggests that survivalism is a factor in the plot and that at its most extreme.

A dull book sorts itself out before a reasonable climax and a defining act of heroism. There were some good ideas: “thought stoppers” for instance (how to halt bad thoughts before they take hold) but forget the carcinogenic steaks and fasting on rough cider. There are bodies in the woods, mentioned in passing, but for readers familiar with fictitious cults we knew they were there from the start. All said and done, a promising debut.






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