By now you know the plot. A family, accompanied by their Catholic priest, family friends, and other parishioners, travel to a desolate part of the UK for a retreat. The purpose of the retreat is to once and for all complete a ritual which will cure one of the family’s teenage sons who is stricken with autism (although I cannot recall if this diagnosis is ever revealed as such). The narrator is the young man’s younger brother who recounts the tale as it occurred nearly forty years ago.
The geographical depictions are a central part of the story. The atmosphere, complete with fog, rain, and constant overcast skies, is a character in itself. The damp and gloomy houses haunt the reader on every page. The dank chill is always evident. There is even an old mansion that is off the coast and only accessible during low tide. The gothic nature of the tale oozes constantly.
The natives resent the presence of the pilgrims. And, there is something not quite right about these people. There’s a hint of witchcraft and pagan rituals, and there are veiled threats towards the visitors. The author keeps explanations for the strange events just beyond our grasp, and the depiction of the climax is ambiguous enough that it may not be to everyone’s taste. All of the action is reported through the first person account of a fifteen year old boy, and his experientially-limited frame of reference adds to the mystery. Oh, and the visiting retreatants are conservative Catholics (this being the 1970’s). The depiction of their beliefs and rituals is so well done that the reader can’t help but observe that these also have a bizarre/pagan feel to them (and I’m a Catholic, so my reaction wasn’t due to unfamiliarity).
Anyhow, I really liked this book. But, be aware, it is not a traditional horror story. Those who disliked it often referred to it as boring. These folks were clearly expecting standard horror fare. It’s not. But it is eerie, strange, and atmospheric. If you’re in the mood, give it a shot.