This is an intriguing and quietly powerful book. A lot happens and nothing happens. It’s menacing and tense. The characters, though largely unlikeable, are oddly compelling. Above all it’s disturbing because everything that’s wrong in this world is never explained.
The set up for the story is pretty simple. Gabrielle and her husband Leo are heading out to a house in the middle of a forest to spend a holiday with Gabrielle’s client, Art, and his partner Polly and daughter Fleur.
Almost immediately the tension ramps up when they apparently hit a deer before they arrive, which they then think has actually been shot. The relationship between the two men, Art and Leo, is strained from the start too, when they challenge one another to a tennis match – a fantastic scene that really allows Walters to dig into their characters and the animosity between them.
Things get progressively worse [spoilers here]. Sexual feelings develop between Leo and Polly. Leo suspects that Gabrielle and Art are having an affair. Stefan falls for Fleur. Gabrielle gets completely lost and disorientated in the woods. Stefan gets charged by a deer. Leo gets lost in the basement tunnels of the building. And so on.
But the intrigue is really what’s not explained. What happens, but is unknown to the reader.
The story is set in a near future where everything is connected to some kind of grid. They have travelled from The Areas to this remote location, though we don’t what that’s all about, only that they’ve left the grid behind and so risk losing connection and everything stopping working. Or that’s the implication.
VR is a common feature, and most of the characters spend some time in virtual reality, almost always a disturbing experience. Technology doesn’t come out of this book well, but neither does the wild of the countryside.
Art meanwhile supplies a cocktail of drugs to Gabrielle and I think Polly, apparently helping them but also controlling and trapping them, showing that patriarchy and power are just as strong in this future as now.
Nothing is fully clear. It’s not quite a dystopia, but the technology and drugs just hang menacingly, a sinister backdrop to the personal dramas playing out in the house.