#SheReviews The Long Weekend by Fiona Palmer

February 7, 2022

It all sounds in print to be so civilised and soul-enriching – a three night writing retreat in the remote yet idyllic environs of coastal Western Australia, with bestselling author, Jan Goldstein. Yet this writing retreat has several life altering twists; the four attendees and the host all have deeply-hidden secrets.

Such is the menacing truth lurking in Australian author, Fiona Palmer’s, latest captivating novel, “The Long Weekend”.

Our four protagonists and writing retreat attendees, in this searingly reflective and contemplative novel, are Beth, Jamie, Alice and Simone (Jan the host of the retreat plays a lesser part). Beth is a young single mother to her baby, Hudson, and works part-time as a physiotherapist. She has facial scars from a past trauma, and “She’d had years of practice hiding her emotions behind her scarred face”. Jamie, the only male at the retreat, is a super-buff gym owner whose breathtakingly good looks entrance Beth from the start, but beneath his startingly striking exterior, Jamie is keeping secrets of his own.  Alice is a young wife and mother who exudes her upper- middle-class pedigree without trying; “she screamed box sets, yachts and private schooling”. Alice has previously suffered from postnatal depression, but that is not the only secret she is holding close to her chest. Alice and Jamie, although attending the retreat separately, already know each other, but it this a good or a bad thing? Simone is younger than the others and a phenomenally successful Instagram influencer, yet certain areas of her past could abruptly derail her career if exposed, despite the fact that “Simone finally felt like she had a voice”.

Could four such distinctively different, yet in many ways emotionally and mentally similarly scarred, individuals find common ground to bond at the retreat? As Alice confides to Simone at one stage, “Looks can be deceiving…We all like to put on brave faces and pretend everything is alright”. Inner turmoil aside, can Beth, Jamie, Alice and Simone find a way to have the writing break-throughs they are so desperately craving?

Jan tells the four participants at this encouraging (or is it?) writing retreat to “write a piece that is deeply moving… your big, deep, dark secrets”. When one of the written secrets is read out by Jan (the author remaining anonymous), Jamie is petrified that he is linked to the writer’s secret. Can he ever recover from that?

As Jamie assures his new allies in life at the retreat, “What happens at retreat stays at retreat”. None-the-less, mental and emotional grenades shockingly explode in Beth’s, Jamie’s, Alice’s, Simone’s and also Jan’s lives as secrets are divulged and alliances formed in such a seemingly serene environment. 

“The Long Weekend” is in turns heartbreaking, uplifting, humanising and gut-wrenching. Fiona Palmer writes nuancingly accurately and highly effectively about the universal human condition, and all that goes into trying to keep it even-keeled. “The Long Weekend” is the perfect read in these troubled times to remind us that we are generally all doing the best we can in life in whatever journey we find ourselves on. I highly recommend this novel; it left me feeling I’d made new friends during my time enthralled in this novel’s pages. I can’t wait for Fiona Palmer’s next book!

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