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Wednesday 11 April 2018

‘The Room by the Lake’ by Emma Dibdin

Published by Head of Zeus,
5 April 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-78669404-1(PB)

A mother with severe mental health issues, a father apparently determined to drink himself into oblivion and a sense of being an outsider that dates right back to childhood: small wonder Caitlin is desperate to escape, and even more desperate to find somewhere she can really belong. But as she  observes with pointed poetic irony, anyone who has ever watched a horror movie would have warned her against spending the night in a huge house in the middle of nowhere with a man she only met a few days ago.

At first it seems OK, once she gets over the shock of learning that Jake, the man who brought her there, hadn't been quite straight with her. The house is headquarters to a small community, mostly lonely misfits like Caitlin herself. They grow their own food, follow an uber-healthy regime of work, exercise and occasional fasting, and take part in therapy sessions, both the group kind and one on one with Don, the community's founder.

But then Caitlin starts to wonder...

Emma Dibdin has writing in her DNA; her father was Michael Dibdin, the acclaimed crime writer and creator of quirky ace detective Aurelio Zen. But in The Room by the Lake Emma has taken on something quite different from her father's more robust work; it's disturbing, but subtly so, playing on fears and insecurities that lie deep in the most self-assured and stable among us. It's also beautifully written; and Caitlin herself, the first-person narrator and as unreliable as narrators come, is portrayed as vividly as the other members of the community: self-possessed Don, Tiggerish Tyra, enigmatic Ruth, optimistic Dale to name just a handful.

Dibdin demonstrates a keen sense of place as well: the noise and rush of New York, the bleakness of small-town America, the suspended-time feeling of long-haul air travel. The bulk of the novel takes place in the house and grounds inhabited by the community; that location almost becomes another character, with its glassy lake, ever-changing woodland and spartan accommodation. When the inevitable vague sense of menace resolves into something all too real, it's almost as if it emerges out of the dense undergrowth.

It's always good to encounter a talented debut author, and better still when that talent results in a first book of this calibre: original plotting, intriguing scenario, brooding atmosphere and above all complex characters. I look forward to seeing where Emma Dibdin goes next.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Emma Dibden grew up in Oxford, and now lives in New York. She is a writer, Jpurnalist whose work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Elle, and MarieClaire. The Room by the Lake is her first novel.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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