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Book Review: "The Writing Retreat" gets lost on the way to its ending

I have been itching for a thriller novel set in the writing space since reading “Bunny” by Mona Awad, and boy does Julia Bartz deliver that in her debut thriller “The Writing Retreat.”

After giving up all hopes of being published, Alex is invited to an exclusive writing retreat run by the groundbreaking feminist author Roza Vallo. Despite her ex-best friend Wren attending the retreat, Alex refuses to let Wren bring her down.

When everyone arrives, the attendees find out they must all complete a novel from scratch during the month-long retreat, with the author of the best one receiving a million-dollar publishing contract. But things take a turn for the weird the more time Alex spends at the house until one of the writers goes missing during a blizzard. There’s more to the story than Roza, or the other attendees are letting on, and Alex must discover the truth or die trying.

For lack of a better term, Alex is ‘going through it’ and can’t seem to get a handle on her life or emotions throughout the novel. Understandably, her breakup with Wren is an emotionally-charged theme throughout the book, especially with the circumstances of the breakup. Still, Alex’s fixation on it felt obsessive. The entire time I read “The Writing Retreat,” I was hoping Alex would move on or, at the very least, set aside the petty gossiping and mind games. Still, her hot mess behavior stuck around till the end. Also, Alex’s point of view and chronic insecurities fell flat for me and ultimately made me not want to root for her survival in the last third of the novel.

The only character I truly enjoyed reading (and wished there was more of her) was Keira, the token, angry Black woman. Which could be interpreted as a subtle nod to the publishing industry’s minimal diversity and often harmful depictions of Black women, or was a blatant stereotype on behalf of the author––who knows.

But, the themes surrounding the writers, friendship, and fame were a delight to dissect. I sincerely enjoyed the barbed remarks about the publishing industry.

Additionally, Bartz wrote a book within a book––Alex’s novel about Roza’s haunted manor becomes the mirror for Alex’s experiences and emotions throughout the writing retreat and, more or less, spoils the ending for readers. The book with a book narrative isn’t new, and Bartz managed to incorporate it well. Still, Alex’s book was honestly my least favorite part.

Ultimately, the ending felt rushed and unsatisfying, letting Roza get away with her antics and no actual resolution for the events at the retreat.

Full of foggy twists and turns, “The Writing Retreat” is a dark, psychological thriller that loses sight of its own ending.

This ARC was provided by Atria and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Follow @bergreadstoomuch on Instagram for more!

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