The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz


The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

I’m a sucker for fiction books that involve writers and their processes. There’s something inherently interesting about an author writing about a writer. 

Based on the description, this book fits the bill while adding an eccentric mentor, a creepy locale, and some ex-bestie drama. When I saw The Writing Retreat on the list for the February 2023 book of the month picks, I was sold.

Alex, an unpublished novelist who is pushing 30 and in a job she hates, is the main character. She’s had some success as a writer but has had writer’s block since and her best friend, Wren, had a falling out almost a year ago. Alex and Wren are both unexpectedly picked to participate in a month-long writing retreat headlined by Roza Vallo, their favorite author. 

Just when the women start to settle into Roza’s remote Blackbriar estate with the three other participants, they are surprised to learn that this is no leisurely retreat to gently stoke their creative juices – it’s a full-on, high-stakes competition. Once the women start hitting their daily word counts in an attempt to finish brand new novels in 30 days, strange things begin to happen. Things that soon have them running for their lives.

“Where did one’s power lie in a world that stripped it from you, over and over again?”

Julia Bartz, The Writing Retreat

This book has psychological thriller and closed-room mystery elements while also giving off a few horror vibes. Like good horror stories, everything takes a dramatic turn when someone starts snooping around in the dark and peaking behind closed doors.

The story unfolds in four parts, with labels like “the basement” and  “the attic”. It also features excerpts of a novel within the story, adding more layers to this already highly meta concept. The story got pretty far-fetched in parts, which is usually a turn-off for me, but weirdly, it held my attention. I didn’t care for most of the characters, though. They all seemed selfish and manipulative.

This was a fast, entertaining, strong three-star read that reminded me of The Family Games and The Hunting Party. 

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