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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

The Retreat, Elisabeth de Mariaffi: A Review

Mulholland is one of my favorite publishing houses, and when I read the summary of The Retreat, I knew I had to request an ARC. While I wasn't familiar with Elisabeth de Mariaffi before this book, I definitely plan on visiting the rest of her work after it.

Maeve signs up for a two-week stay at an artist retreat in the secluded mountains. Determined to overcome her personal demons and focus on reuniting with her identity as a dancer, she is not prepared for the literal avalanche that strands the residents--and the terrifying events that unravel.

I loved this book.

I took a day to think about what I wanted to say in this review. I'll start by saying this has all the elements of some of my favorite thrillers: secluded location, locked-door tension, unreliable characters, troubled backstory. There is a solid balance between internal turmoil and external conflict, and I really enjoyed how Maeve's insecurities, doubts, and fears manifest in the world around her.

Some of this reminded me of one of my other recent favorites, Zoje Stage's Wonderland. While I wouldn't say there is a supernatural theme here, there is one of spirituality, of a dissociation that comes with a major identity transition. No spoilers, of course, but de Mariaffi explores the constructs of motherhood and womanhood with unabashed confidence. She nails this on multiple levels. Women as things, bodies separate from emotion and thought, to be bent and molded without resistance. Women as sexual objects, the focus of the male gaze. Women as unilateral beings, mother or professional, one or the other, where we see the struggle between wanting more and the guilt of not being satisfied with one signifier: mother. That being said, I think many readers will relate to Maeve's struggles, and I found the larger-picture discussion about bodies and identity insightful and unapologetic.

On the other hand, we also get this taut, almost nostalgic thriller, that reminded me of some of my favorite 90s slashers (think: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream). The last few chapters were cinematic, and I held my breath for the entire last page. So. Good.

Overall, The Retreat is a gripping, gutting read with crisp prose and nuanced characters. Out 07/20, add this to your TBRs now.

Big thanks to Mulholland and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.


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