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The Vacation House


The Vacation House

There’s a vacation house in idyllic Paxos, a forgotten part of Greece that has the feeling of paradise. Thirteen-year-old Sophie lived there with her family and loved it. Sometimes she nearly forgot that their Paxos home didn’t belong to them; they were simply the caretakers.

When the English owners would arrive --- and they often brought along guests --- Sophie and her mom, dad and cousins cooked, cleaned, washed and served all of their daily needs. To the English, that was their function; as hired help, they deserved no thanks or acknowledgment. Even their 19-year-old daughter, Julia, only glanced at Sophie once or twice dismissively.

"It’s a mission by a person terribly wronged to heal in a way that can be just and satisfying. But it also can be destructive. You simply have to find out. The ending is stunning."

During that summer of 2003, two guests seemed to take a keen interest in Sophie. She didn’t understand why, but it felt kind of nice. However, one night would change her life forever, plus the lives of many others. By the following morning, nothing would be the same. Paxos, the place that she loved, was snatched away from her, and she found herself bundled off to Corfu.

Fast forward 20 years. Julia is married and has an adult daughter. Her father died, and her mother now resides in a care home. Julia still stays in touch with her most trusted family members, of whom there are few. She put aside her own career to assist her husband James, the headmaster of a private school in London. Many years have passed since Julia has been to Paxos. She remembers it with conflicting emotions, some --- but not all --- of them good. A secret seems to hang over the place that no one will share with her.

After a time, a tiny crack appears in Julia and James’ marriage, but it’s large enough for Julia to question her happiness and disturbing enough to accept the offer of assistance from a therapist who calls herself Laurel. The two women form a connection right from the start. Laurel’s advice resonates with Julia, and she wholeheartedly follows it. She exerts more and more independence at home, until one day she announces that she is going to visit Paxos. She really ought to check on the property, especially after so long. James’ angry reaction surprises her, but it doesn’t stop her from making the two-week trip.

Julia finds a sort of peaceful satisfaction being on her own, if only for a short while. The residents of Paxos, though, have not forgotten her family. Wherever she goes, she’s eyed with caution. Julia wonders about their mistrust, but prying information from them does not come easily. With the help of Rasul, a cook she has taken on back in London, she manages to uncover several shocking revelations about that fateful night two decades ago that lead to even more horrific discoveries.

Jane Shemilt’s THE VACATION HOUSE begins on a cheery note, with a happy young girl enjoying her place in life. But as her path crosses that of a family far different from hers, with ethics and standards vastly unlike her own family’s, that happiness takes a dark turn. After a devastating event, she must decide how to move forward. Will she grow strong or let the horror break her? The answer isn’t as simple as either/or. It’s a mission by a person terribly wronged to heal in a way that can be just and satisfying. But it also can be destructive. You simply have to find out. The ending is stunning.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 13, 2024

The Vacation House
by Jane Shemilt