Review: The Retreat, Alison Moore

SALT Publishing, 2021

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. 

Since reading Alison Moore’s Man Booker shortlisted novel, The Lighthouse, and subsequently her collection, The Pre-War House and Other Stories, her work has drawn me in with its tight prose and an unnerving sense of foreboding. She has a gift for honing in on fine detail, memory and doubt, creating a sinister unease. There is tension even in the simplest of details and a layered story, where realities shift and doubt creeps in. An other worldliness fills her writing in a way that leaves you questioning and searching for what might be and what might not.

“Sandra wants to be inspired, just like Angie was inspired by the chapel and wrote that poem that everyone said was beautiful. She wants to paint something that she can be proud of, something the others will admire, something she could bear to hand on a wall.”

A sense of isolation is created so well in the mind of Sandra, a thread that runs through many of her characters and books. In The Retreat, this is thrown into the fore as the chapters alternate between what is going on in the mind of Sandra against a narrative that weaves in the actions of the other characters, some of whom the reader will begin to detest. She writes with subtlety, each sentence punching with the weight of a skilled storyteller.

“Carol had understood that the students had arranged to shoot the whole film on the island, sleeping in the house, which had running water and electricity and so on – but something had not worked out, although Carol is not clear what that something was.”

As the chapters shift between Carol, who is alone in a seemingly haunted house on another island and trying to write a novel, and Sandra, who becomes increasingly ostracised by the other artists in the sparse house that they are staying in for an artists’ retreat, many of Carol and Sandra’s thoughts repeat and expand, reflecting the minds of introverts that Moore cleverly creates. You feel an increasing sense of disconnect and longing in Sandra, as she walks to a spot each day to paint the island where Carol is staying, at one point finding someone else in her spot. You expect, and almost hope, the two will meet.

“She wonders what the hell she is doing here, naked at night on the rocks; she is no longer sure that she wants to jump, but she is here now, and she will do it.”

So much of the power of this novella lies in the details: the missing glove, the disregard of Sandra’s needs by her fellow artists, the sounds that Carol hears in the night, the misplaced objects in both of their realities. It’s a gripping book that I read in one sitting on the day that it arrived! Moore creates something that leaves you trying to grasp what is just out of reach. The weight of the story will resonate with you far beyond the end of the pages.

Alison Moore’s short stories have been published in various magazines, journals and anthologies, including Best British Short Stories and Best British Horror, and broadcast on BBC Radio. The title story of her first collection, The Pre-War House, won the New Writer Novella Prize; her second collection, Eastmouth and Other Stories, will be published in autumn 2022.

Her first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Awards, winning the McKitterick Prize. Both The Lighthouse and her second novel, He Wants, were Observer Books of the Year. She recently published her fifth novel, The Retreat, and a trilogy for children, beginning with Sunny and the Ghosts.

Born in Manchester in 1971, she lives in a village on the Leicestershire-Nottinghamshire border with her husband, son and cat. She is an honorary lecturer in the School of English at the University of Nottingham and a member of the National Association of Writers in Education.

Find her at https://www.alison-moore.com

Writing News….

LINEN PRESS

Linen Press will be releasing news about my next book, a psychological thriller about the art underworld, this week! Follow @linenpress on Twitter and Instagram for updates…

REFLEX PRESS

My story, You Fold Yourself into Tiny Spaces, was longlisted in the Reflex Press International Flash Fiction Competition in 2021. It has just been released in their anthology, In Defence of Pseudoscience: Volume Five, Reflex Press, July 2022. My contributor copy arrived this morning, along with a copy of the London Review of Books. I’m very much looking forward to reading stories from fellow contributors.

You can purchase a copy directly from Reflex Press. Keep your eyes peeled for more exciting book information to be released this week from Linen Press. I can’t wait to share news about my latest psychological thriller with you! Pop back soon…

Poetry Publication: A Chink in the Window

POETRY – “A CHINK IN THE WINDOW” BY FC MALBY 22/7/2022

A Chink in the Window

Light flickers through a chink in the window. Moths dance
outside in the low evening light, try to find their way inside,
the way children scramble to reach the popcorn. You think
about how people try to find ways out of things and ways in,
and about the constantly changing landscape of life.

Some scramble for the light, leaving at dawn, while others
remain. You wonder who controls the opening and closing
of windows, the turning of the leaves, the inner turmoil that
drives some to make the decisions that they do. You try to
fix them but some things are not fixable, not your

responsibility. Three moths have found their way in
through the chink and are dancing around the table
lamp. You wonder how many more will arrive and how
many will stay. Remaining through troubled times,
staying in the building, that’s the hard part. Some leave

when it gets too hot, others leave because they are
uncomfortable in their own skin. You wait for the moths
to leave near dawn, after they have settled in the warmth,
then close the window and watch the sun appear, feel
its warmth against flesh. And you know that if you travel
lightly, allowing the sand to sift through your fingertips

the right ones will remain in first the morning light.

FC Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her work is forthcoming in the Reflex Press Anthology, Vol. 5. Her poetry has been published in Spillwords Press, Sledgehammer Lit and Unpublishable Zine. Her social media handle is @fcmalby.