Book Review: C. L. Taylor’s “Her Last Holiday”

After finishing my last book, I had a couple of reading-free days to deep-clean the flat and focus my attention on work stuff… Who knew my twenties would be so exciting? Anyway, when it came to selecting my next read, I did what I always do: pick out five or six from my bookshelf, and just keep reading the blurbs, knocking one book out with each round until I’m left with the winner. A book-X-Factor, if you will. That’s normal, right? Occasionally, I’ll allow my boyfriend to weigh-in, and it was his judgement that crowned Her last Holiday the lucky winner, claiming it sounded from the outset like it could be made into a film or TV drama. While that didn’t jump out at me while reading it, it certainly did have enough twists and turns to be a short series – but the books are always better, aren’t they? …

The Plot…

I read the vast majority of the book (over three quarters of it) on one particularly lazy Sunday. However, the last quarter took a couple of days through no fault of the plot itself; just life getting in the way. In fact, if I’d have had it my way, I’d have read the whole thing in one go: I thought it was really good! The story follows the perspective of Fran, a middle-aged woman living in North London, tormented by the loss of her younger sister, who disappeared – presumed dead – on a wellness retreat in the Mediterranean two years ago. The praised leader of the wellness retreat expedition: “SoulShrink”, or Tom Wade, a man who has just been released from prison for the deaths of two other people embarking on their soul-searching journeys on his retreats. And he’s already started up his SoulShrink holidays again…

Buckling under the relentless emotional blackmail from her Mother, Fran feels forced to attend one of these upcoming getaway in Snowdonia, concealing her true identity as she seeks out the truth about what really happened to her Jenna. Only, the path to the truth is far from the straight and narrow: the proceeding plot is winding and thrilling, told across multiple perspectives, as well as from the present – from Fran’s perspective – paralleled against the past – from Jenna’s perspective – giving the bitter-sweet illusion that the two sisters are away on this retreat together. Of course – they’re not, but with the same faces present in both timelines, their paths intertwine in the friendships and loyalties made, and the secrets and deceit of seemingly innocent soul-searchers.

One thing to mention: you should probably take some notes… I regret not doing so. Particularly since some characters are either using pseudonym or have changed their names completely, leaving you to discover their identity later, which caused me some confusion. There were two very specific pages (220 and 221, if you do end up reading it) where I had to re-read the page multiple times, trying to detangle what was happening. I’m now fully convinced that a mistake of names was made on those two pages, but you’ll have to let me know!

Much like with my last read set in a gated community, the effect of the scenery being a secluded group on a wellness retreat means that – naturally – everyone seems suspicious at one stage or another. Every time I think I believed I knew what had happened and who was responsible, I was wrong – which is always refreshing (as much as I hate being wrong). When the truth was finally revealed and the culprit laid bare, I couldn’t help but bit a little disappointed, in all honesty. Did I suspect that person? No. Did I anticipate that ending? No. But did it seem a little vague and questionable? Yes. Sometimes you can just tell when an ending is simply intended to be an unpredictable shock, loosely sewn together and a bit out of left-field. It was still a good book, and I enjoyed the ending nonetheless – but I did expect something more. Maybe a bit more logic, motive, means – if I think about it for more than a couple of minutes, I start questioning a lot…

The Characters…

A sucker for a strong, to-the-point heroine, I loved the character of Fran – our main protagonist –empathising with her deepest regrets and lasting anguish resulting from Jenna’s disappearance, rooting for her all the while she is covertly in the Lion’s den. My favourite element of Fran’s character, however, was the very evident emotional transformation she made throughout the book. Beginning as a stern and detached IT teacher, with not much time for family and friends, and even less patience, although Fran is on this wellness retreat for ulterior motives, the process of uncovering the truth about what happened to her sister certainly has a profound impact on her. By the end of the story, it feels as though an emotional veil has been lifted, and her subsequent thoughts are lighter, and more understanding.

Another character I didn’t necessarily like – but enjoyed reading from their perspective – was Kate, Tom Wade’s wife. With a very obvious personality disorder of some kind, it was interesting and honestly chilling to read from the viewpoint of a character that seemed psychopathic in the way she would calculate her words, actions and outward emotions, manipulating those around her at all times.

Would I recommend?

All-in-all, it was a really good book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – so yes, I would recommend it! As it was not quite as ‘relax-friendly’ as my last read – The Therapist – I would perhaps recommend a few short-hand notes to refer back to, but other than that – it was a definite page-turner and well worth the read!  

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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