Then she meets Jake. Handsome, smart, slightly damaged Jake. He lives off-grid, in a lakeside commune whose members practice regular exercise and frequent group therapy. Before long, Caitlin has settled into her idyllic new home.
It looks like she has found the fresh start she longed for. But, as the commune tightens its grip on her freedom and her sanity, Caitlin realizes too late that she might become lost forever...
*May Contain Spoilers*
Emma Dibdin writes of how wonderful living off the grid can be... except when it comes with manipulation, a forced regimen, and unlicensed therapy. The Room by the Lake is a thrilling novel that takes a girl who is running away from her troubles and gives her peace, but the price is high.
Almost a year after Caitlin loses her mother, and her father resumes his alcoholic tendencies, she decides on a whim to leave London. Ending up in New York with very limited money and no friends, Caitlin struggles to move forward. It's during this time of feeling lost that Caitlin actually becomes lost in a lakeside commune in upstate New York. After meeting Jake, a seemingly nice yet slightly damaged young man, he takes her to the commune.
Caitlin is an intelligent young woman who has just graduated from Oxford. I think readers will mainly connect with her based on her emotional states and internal feelings because most of the book is focused on this in one way or the other. Whether Caitlin is examining her own feelings or being evaluated by Don, the therapy leader in the commune, readers get a very detailed look into Caitlin's psyche. However, that also includes the confusion and uncertainty that comes with Caitlin being manipulated by those around her. So at times, the reader will definitely question Caitlin's sanity. This aligns with Caitlin questioning her own sanity as the environment really starts to shift away from peaceful and toward the edges of frightening.
The novel follows both Caitlin's entry into and exit from the commune. Though the building of suspense is a little slow, the climactic scene is worth the agony of waiting. The evolution of the story includes Caitlin wanting to leave the commune immediately and shifts to her slowly accepting the restrictions and rules that the commune shares with her (or forces upon her). At first, this new routine and the expunging of social chaos is freeing. But when Caitlin begins losing time, struggling to remember key details and finds another commune member dead -- the peaceful feeling disappears instantly. She begins to realize something is drastically wrong but can't stay conscious long enough to figure it out. During these chapters, I think readers will be unable to put the book down. I know these sections were the only parts that kept me reading at a frantic pace. The only big thing that bothered me, and though it's explained it still bothers me now, is that Caitlin trusted everyone so easily. If I was suddenly forced into a strange camping situation with rules and restrictions that I immediately felt uncomfortable with, I don't think I would have stayed for more than one night. But manipulation is a strong force so I can't really blame Caitlin for falling into this facade of peace, acceptance, and the illusion of bettering one's self. With a mixed stream of consciousness writing style and the unreliability of the narrator, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers.
Rating: 3/5 Cups