Book Review

The House on the Lake by Nuala Ellwood

the house on the lake

I really enjoyed Nuala Ellwood’s previous two novels, My Sister’s Bones and The Day of the Accident, and I was thrilled to be invited to read The House on the Lake ahead of publication.

No matter how far you run…

He’s never far behind

Lisa needs to disappear. And her friend’s rambling old home in the wilds of Yorkshire seems like the perfect place. It’s miles away from the closest town, and no one there knows her or her little boy, Joe.

But when a woman from the local village comes to visit them, Lisa realises that she and Joe aren’t as safe as she thought.

What secret has Rowan Isle House – and her friend – kept hidden all these years?

And what will Lisa have to do to survive, when her past finally catches up with her?

The House on the Lake features two intertwined narratives.  This first is set in the present day, and begins with Lisa arriving at Rowan Isle House in Yorkshire with a grumpy toddler in tow.  It quickly becomes apparent that Lisa is on the run from her husband, Mark, and while the reasons for this take some time to be revealed in full, it’s clear that their relationship was not a healthy one.  Rowan Isle House has been offered to her as a place of sanctuary should she ever need it, but, upon arrival, Lisa is dismayed to find it in a state of disrepair.  Seeing no other option, she tries to settle in despite the house having no power, running water, or heating.

Lisa’s tale is one of desperation.  On the run from a dysfunctional relationship, she is clearly terrified that Mark will somehow be able to track her down and that he will take her little boy away from her.  Her fear is palpable, and she does her best to keep her head down and to avoid attracting attention.  She does risk a tentative friendship with Isobel, a local woman who helps Lisa to get the stove working as well as helping her with her son who is becoming increasingly fractious.  It’s very easy to feel sympathy for Lisa given the circumstances.  She knows that the environment she is in isn’t healthy for her boy, and yet she has no choice, having little money available with which she could find somewhere more comfortable.  Lisa becomes increasingly paranoid throughout the novel, convinced that Mark will find her, and not helped by the rumours she hears about Rowan Isle House, which has its own dark past.  Ellwood captures her distress brilliantly, and I couldn’t wait to see how things would turn out for Lisa.

The second narrative is set some 16 years earlier, and features the journal of an individual known only as “Soldier” initially.  Soldier lives at Rowan Isle House, and is in fact a young girl (not a spoiler, I promise!) living with her father who she refers to as “Sarge”.  It’s an unusual relationship, as Soldier does not attend school, but is instead taught by her father who teaches her the usual skills such as arithmetic, but also how to hunt and how to live off the land.  These sections become increasingly disturbing. Soldier can see that her father is troubled, and while she doesn’t have a term for it, it’s more apparent to the reader that he is suffering from PTSD.  Sarge is clearly very controlling, and the journal extracts are quite difficult to read at times as Soldier is punished, quite harshly in places, for any perceived violation of her father’s strict regime.

These two narratives gradually overlap, and there were some wonderful twists as the reader learns more about the lives of Lisa and Soldier.  As with her previous novels, Ellwood, has written brilliant characters that you come to care about, despite their flaws, and I thought that she tackled various forms of dysfunctional relationships brilliantly throughout the novel.  The House on the Lake is an excellent thriller, and one that I think will attract readers who may be new to Ellwood’s work as well as satisfying her existing fan base.

The House on the Lake will be published by Penguin in 2020.  The eBook is released on 24 January, with the paperback following on 20 February.  Many thanks to the publisher for the early look at the novel via Netgalley.

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