When Rob decides the family needs to get away for the summer Jess is not convinced – won’t all the things they’re escaping be waiting for them on their return? But the kids are thrilled, and before long their idyllic little cottage, the sea air, and the feel of skin sticky from sun-cream, lollies and sand, begins to work its magic. Jess allows herself to sink into the holiday vibes – the family even make holiday friends.
The summer heat intensifies Jess – ever vigilant – unearths a secret, a problem she’s sure she can help solve. But things are not always as they seem. The water may look inviting but even the gentlest looking waves can hide the deadliest undercurrents.
As autumn approaches, Jess – and the reader – will come to realise this is going to end in a way no-one could have imagined…
I adore how Bev Thomas writes! The love affair began with A Good Enough Mother and continues here with The Family Retreat-an emotional look at family, the lies we let ourselves believe and the sacrifices family demands from us. If I did trigger warnings then I wouldn’t know where to start as there are some very difficult subjects covered here but I don’t and every single distressing situation is handled perfectly by an author who completely understands the dynamics of relationships within families.
Spending a summer on the Dorset coastline sounds idyllic and Jess, her husband Rob and their two young children are looking forward to time away from the stresses of family life. But GP Jess takes longer to unwind due to the problems she has found emotionally challenging at work. Still, meeting other parents means she gradually starts to relax and even attempt friendships as the sea air works its magic. But as the summer progresses, secrets and lies build up to a breathtaking and shocking crescendo…
There is so much I want to praise about this book! The characters felt authentic and I became completely invested in their lives, even the supporting characters like Joyce, Gemma and Pete. Their struggles, the ensuing emotions and the actions that organically evolved from those feelings were subtle but powerful at the same time. I lived alongside them, a fly on the wall, watching as lives implode during those few short weeks of summer. As they all head towards some shocking revelations, I felt physically sick as I really had come to feel quite protective of Jess and those around her.
The theme of safeguarding played a major part in this storyline and the difficulties surrounding a very emotive subject were explored sympathetically. For GP Jess, her caring nature and sense of duty meant that she often looked at problems with a dichotomous thinking without considering any grey areas. Her sessions with her therapist helped to show the reader how these thought patterns have shaped the woman she is now and why she often doesn’t react to what is so obviously in her eyesight. She is a complex character but I found her absolutely fascinating even if I struggled to understand her thinking at times.
The Family Retreat was sometimes hard to read due to some disturbing issues within the storyline but I still found it impossible to put down-it was like watching a car skidding slowly across an icy road on an unstoppable collision course that you can’t take your eyes away from as you stand impotently by. And it’s not until the end that the title starts to make a lot more sense! I found it to be a powerful, thoughtful and impactful book with a setting that is both beautifully described and well utilised as a backdrop to the accompanying family drama.
The Family Retreat will be published by Faber & Faber on 16th August 2022.
Bev was a clinical psychologist in the NHS for many years. She currently works as an organizational consultant in mental health and other services. She lives in London with her family.