I’m currently making dinner (Ina Garten’s Skillet Roasted Chicken and Potatoes from her Modern Comfort cookbook for anyone interested.)
I figured I’d take my down time to write about the most recent book I read, The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz, and well, I have A LOT of thoughts about this one.
So, here we go.
The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz
Summary *Check Trigger Warnings
Our main character, Alex, is a hot mess. She’s had writer’s block for a year, is on the outs with her best friend, Wren, and can’t seem to catch a break. When Alex is invited to attend a writer’s retreat at Blackbriar, the home of reclusive, eccentric writer, Roza Vallo, who is also Alex’s literary hero. However, when she arrives, nothing turns out the way she hoped, and Alex and the other writers on the retreat are forced to write for their lives.
What I Liked about the Book
I think the concept was really compelling. A writer’s retreat in a big estate in the middle of nowhere. There’s claustrophobia. There’s a book within a book element. There’s all the things I like about these types of thrillers, including talk of ghosts and the supernatural. The atmosphere was really well done.
Specifically, I really liked Bartz’s underlying commentary on creativity and finding one’s voice. There was one such moment in Alex’s story arc that really resonated with me personally, and I found myself nodding along with her realization because it’s the type of realization that all creatives must come to at one point or another. I found that scene to be an incredibly powerful and satisfying resolution for Alex.
Things I Had Questions About
Woof. Where do I begin?
There were a lot of moments in the novel where I heard Bartz rather than the characters. It was almost like her personal voice was so strong that it infiltrated her characters and took me out of the story. There were also some moments where I didn’t believe the characters would speak or act the way they did because it seemed so outside of who Bartz presented them as initially.
There were a lot of plot holes, two in particular that stood out to me. One was when one of the characters got sick and a big deal was made out of the illness. As a reader, I assumed that if the narrator is making a big deal out of how sick this character is, then it is going to be a big deal to the plot. But then it is never discussed again after having been a focus of several chapters. Did the character magically get better? Was the character faking being ill?
The other plot hole, maybe not plot hole but plot detail, that stood out to me was that Alex shares with Roza that her mother was a holocaust survivor. Now, to the best of my knowledge, this book takes place in present day (probably within the last three years). And the math on this one ain’t mathing. Alex tells us she is 30 years old at the time of the book. It is a major improbability that her mother had been born at the time of the Holocaust, even if she were a newborn at the tail end of the war. That would make her mother around 80 years old, by my calculation, making her 50 years old when she had Alex. Also, after Alex shares this family history with Roza, it is never mentioned again. So, why mention it at all?
There were a lot of moments that were tied up with a convenient bow that didn’t feel true to the characters. (I’m trying not to give too much away here.)
After reading many other reviews of this book, I’d say I might be an outlier here. It does have lots of five star reviews and people who absolutely loved it.
Unfortunately, I was not one of them.
I felt like the execution of this great premise fell flat for me. Bartz is clearly a good writer with important things to say and a knack for picking interesting topics, but I just didn’t connect with the characters because there were too many moments that took me out of the story.
That’s it for now, friends. Until next time, I hope you find something good to read! (And please leave me your book recs in the comments!)
Leave a Reply