Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Vacation House

The Vacation House by Jane Shemilt
12/26/23; 288 pages
William Morrow

The Vacation House by Jane Shemilt is a very highly recommended novel of psychological suspense set in two time periods and in two countries.

In 2003 a wealthy English family arrives at the vacation house they own in Paxos, Greece. Sophie is the thirteen-year-old daughter of the family who are caretakers and servants for the owners. The owners show up with their nineteen-year-old daughter, Julia, and then their various invited guests arrive. Julia has been very kind to Sophie in the past but ignores her this time. When Sophie is at the beach early one morning with her four-year-old brother Nico, two of the teenage boys who are guests show up and this first encounter eventually leads to a horrific assault.

In London in 2023, Julia is playing the role of the perfect wife. Even though she is deeply unhappy and full of anxiety, her marriage to James Grenville, headmaster of an exclusive English boarding school, means she and her daughter, Lottie, have financial security. James is controlling and expects Julia to play her role to perfection. When Julia meets Laurel, a therapist, she begins talking to her and experiences positive benefits. It also leads her to find out the truth of what happened in 2003.

Sophie and Julia are believable, fully realized characters who will garner your complete empathy. There are heartbreaking scenes that are very difficult to read.

The carefully-crafted descriptive writing brings every scene to life. The narrative alternates between these two timelines and points-of-view, gradually building up tension and suspense. Most readers are going to predict where the plot is going in both timelines, but this foresight only increases the tension. The atmosphere in both timelines is foreboding as you know neither situation is going to turn out well. The pace of second half of the novel really takes off and your apprehension will sky-rocket with each new revelation.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow via Edelweiss.

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