Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Retreat - David Bergen

This new novel from David Bergen has just been released from Random House Canada.

The book opens in Kenora, Ontario in 1973. Raymond Seymour, a young native man, has just been dropped off and left to die on a remote island by a local cop. His crime? Dating the white cop's niece.

The Byrd family arrives in the summer of 1974 to stay at the Retreat, which is just outside Kenora as well. It's leader is the self styled 'Doctor'. He promotes the Retreat as a spiritual and practical escape for the summer. But to the reader his motives seem to have a darker side.

" Take a group of people and plunk them down in a village, a village that is created from scratch, and make those people live together. What happens? That's what interests me."

Mrs. Byrd sees this Retreat as her salvation from her unhappy life. Her husband Lewis loves his wife and will go along with whatever she wants. Their four children - Lizzy, the oldest, her brothers William and Everett and the youngest boy Fish, aren't thrilled to be there.

The Retreat is also populated with other guests, all seeking or hiding from something.1974 is also the year of the Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park in Kenora.

Lizzy crosses paths with Raymond Seymour, who escaped from the island and now delivers fresh game to the Retreat. They begin a relationship.

What follows is a haunting, unsettling story of lives, wants, needs and undercurrents never quite brought to the surface. The clash of cultures and beliefs fuel the fire.

Bergen's phrasing and language are beautiful. I often had to stop and savour a phrase.

"He was moving his crooked fingers, as if attempting to pick up some slippery idea up off the floor."

I felt as if I was watching a train wreck. You don't want to see the destruction but feel compelled to witness it. As the novel hurtles towards it's inevitable end, I could not put it down. I was thinking about The Retreat long after I turned the final page.

Bergen is a previous winner of the Giller Prize for his last novel, The Time in Between.


Alessandra said...

Hi! I found your blog through the BBAW list. Nice blog you have! And great review.

The Tome Traveller said...

This looks like an intense but intersting book. Thanks for the review!