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Alison Moore

The Retreat

The Retreat


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Since childhood, Sandra Peters has been fascinated by the small, private island of Lieloh, home to the reclusive silent-film star Valerie Swanson. Having dreamed of going to art college, Sandra is now in her forties and working as a receptionist, but she still harbours artistic ambitions. When she sees an advert for a two-week artists’ retreat on Lieloh, Sandra sets out on what might be a life-changing journey.

Reviews of this Book

‘Novels set on islands have a habit of taking nasty turns, as this example slyly acknowledges. But readers of Alison Moore’s Booker-shortlisted The Lighthouse will know that her speciality is slow-building unease rather than obvious jump scares. So it is with this, which follows two frustrated creatives, painter Sandra and novelist Carol, as they seek inspiration on two adjacent, isolated islands.’ —Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

‘In this new book, a would-be painter called Sandra joins an artists’ retreat on an island called Leiloh where “contentment is assured”. In a parallel story, Carol, an aspiring writer, travels to a deserted island so that she can finish her novel. Although the worlds of these characters are contemporary and largely realistic, this is a story laced with the tropes of fairytale and myth. Emblematic and intentionally flimsy, Sandra and Carol are often described in terms of adverts, plays and books. The atmosphere of the islands is eerie and unsettling, the writing imbued with a deliberate simplicity and distance.’ —Alice Jolly, The Guardian

‘I’ve loved all four of Alison Moore’s previous novels for adults – the most recent being Missing published in 2018 – and this was no exception. I particularly admire the ability to make relatively ordinary situations seem macabre. I also love the visual imagery: how objects are planted, as they might be in film, as clues to how we might interpret the story. No doubt I missed several in The Retreat, but picked up on doubles and mirrors; fantasy and fairy tale; and the small, smaller and smallest islands like matryoshka dolls.’ —Anne Goodwin, Annecdotal

‘I very much enjoyed the writing and I feel that a lot more emotion was stirred up as I read than I was expecting.’ —Intensive Gassing About Books

‘★★★★★ I had not read anything by this author before but I was captivated by the writing and I will be seeking out her other books. The bullying nature of the group and the sense of a lifelong dream turning into a nightmare for Sandra was really unsettling. I loved the references to other books set on Islands and to fairy tales.’ —Book Blogging Bureau

‘This is a fantastic book with great drama and plot and beautiful writing. I loved the characters the chemistry the sprit they had in this story. Every chapter exciting to read you love this book.’ —Rhianydd Morris

‘Whilst most of The Retreat is given over to Sandra, personally I found Carol’s narrative to be the most compelling. Alison Moore has perfectly captured the unsettling feeling of isolation, combining this with a delightful sense of the weird to create a not-quite ghost story that revels in its atmosphere. As the novel progresses, Carol’s narrative also begins to shed new light upon Sandra’s predicament, creating a compelling yet uneasy narrative that left me feeling somewhat unsettled by the time I turned the final page.’ —The Shelf of Unread Books

‘Artists’ retreats are usually portrayed as places of solace and inspiration, but Alison Moore’s intriguing novel offers a bracing counterpoint. She depicts the island of Lieloh, home to the former movie star Valerie Swanson, as a strange and threatening place, full of enigma and artifice. When aspiring painter Sandra Peters joins the retreat, it proves to be anything but a relaxing trip away.’ —Alexander Larman, The Observer

‘Moore was previously nominated for the Booker Prize. Her new book follows Sandra, a middle-aged receptionist and would-be painter who visits an artists’ retreat only for her ambitions to wilt under the backbiting of fellow residents. While narrative tension comes mainly from her social discomfort, there’s mystery, too, thanks to a secondary thread about an aspiring novelist in search of creative solitude. Darkly funny and poignant.’ —Anthony Cummins, Mail on Sunday

‘I loved this book, which is effective and disturbing to a far more potent degree than any number of more deliberate or dramatic haunted house stories. The only problem with being a Moore fan is that the moment you’ve finished reading one of her novels you’re already looking forward to the next – and Moore, to her credit, is a writer who is prepared to give her books all the time they need to come into being.’ —Nina Allan, The Spider’s House

The Retreat is a small masterpiece of disconnection.’ —Kate McLoughlin, TLS

‘The two narratives tie up in unexpected ways, right down to the novel’s final disturbing revelation: Moore has wrapped her clever, devilish thriller around an elaborate study of artistic insecurity.’ —Catherine Taylor, FT

‘Alison Moore’s engaging fifth novel, in which things recur, mirror and nestle within one another, filling the pages to saturation.’ —Anna Aslanyan, Literary Review

‘Immediately intriguing, this beautifully written novel hums with slowly building tension.’ —Sheila Grant, NB

Praise for Previous Work

‘She is both gifted stylist and talented creator of a new English grotesque.’ —Isabel Berwick, Financial Times

Book of the day Dense, complex, thought-provoking, it manages to be at once a fairytale and a philosophical treatise, high-octane thriller and literary interrogation. Like the dreams that haunt Bonnie’s night-times, it holds its secrets close, and repays careful rereading. The end of the novel, abrupt and death-haunted, feels as neat and tight as a key in a lock, and sheds light on the mysteries that have gone before.’ —Sarah Crown, The Guardian

‘As losses accumulate and ghosts multiply, the book begins to resemble a gothic tale, conflating the tragic and the mundane, betrayal and cooking, loneliness and “newspapers and phones and children and meal deals”. You suspect that some of these leads might be false, but the current of Moore’s prose is stronger than the pull of any potential plot twists. The main narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to 1985 and with anonymous messages, in which someone tells Jessie they are coming home. The interruptions grow longer; the tension increases. And then, without breaking the rhythm, Moore swiftly brings the story to an end, reminding you that life can be a realist drama and a romance, a horror story and an existential novel – often all of these things at once, and more.’ —Anna Aslanyan, The Guardian

He Wants will easily be one of my books of the year... He Wants left me feeling both completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once.’ —Simon Savidge, Savidge Works

‘Alison Moore is very good on modern alienation... She doesn’t so much lay bare a life as shine blinding pinpricks into its darkest corners.’ —Claire Allfree, Metro

‘Like Moore’s other works, Missing starts out as a spare and seemingly simple psychological drama. But stay with it and dig deeper, for beneath the surface lurk immensely satisfying hidden depths.’ —Malcolm Forbes, The Sunday Herald

Missing is a triumph.’ —Anthony Cummins, Daily Mail

‘Alison Moore persuades you, gently, to look at words and language anew, to question the nature of the very structures you have inhabited for so long. She has marshalled a multitude of images, all sliding together under the surface, all apparently unstable, isolated, yet touching, like the infinite parallel universes that Jessie reads about. With her apparently simple, artless style, she has achieved something remarkable.’ —Philip Womack, Times Literary Supplement

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