Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach
Flame Tree Press
Publication Date: 6th September 2018
“They feed so Skiá feeds”
I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of this book to review in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press.
My fiancé is a huge Ramsey Campbell fan so he was just as excited as me for me to begin. His writing has been a great source of comfort for Andy over the years and he takes every opportunity he can to re read the books he owns. I can see why, the writing is so fluid and detailed, pulling you in one sentence at a time, engulfing you with this feeling that you are there, right in the middle of the unfolding drama. I was dragged in from the start with this book; the increasing tension, the desperation to know just exactly what was happening, I found it hard to put down, only stopping when real life traumas like work got in my way (even then I was reading it on my lunch break, so engrossed that I didn’t hear my colleague trying to talk to me for over 10 minutes).
I really appreciated that we were never given the full picture of what was happening until quite near the end. I knew from the start there was something ‘off’ with the Greek Island of Vasilema, there was something unseen and unspoken, a darkness that lingered and terrified. Only the locals seemed to know, but they appeared to ignore it, or at least pretend to.
The tone of the story was very much about our mortality and prolonging life. The focus of the book surrounded Ray and Sandra, as well as their children and grandchildren. We are aware from the beginning that something is wrong with Sandra, we can feel the concern and protectiveness that Ray has for her, confirmed when he proceeds to put on a facade of normality for the rest of the family. He doesn’t want to ruin the family vacation. The descriptiveness of how frail Sandra was, the writing was both delicate and yet intense, fully encompassing just how brittle she appeared to be, and how she was deteriorating before Ray. The way she was then invigorated, seemingly from a bite, or the island, or a combination, gathering her strength back very slowly over the two weeks, was beautiful to read yet unnerving all the same.
I found all the subtle references throughout the book relating to mortality, and the curse of immortality I felt, very well thought out and very well placed. The driving force of the story, the family, their relationships, and their coming to terms with Sandra’s illness, was so well integrated with the underlying tension of darkness. It was claustrophobic in parts, this all encompassing, all controlling darkness; it seemed to be the all powerful force on the island. Even the buses wouldn’t stop after dark.
After the initial night, Sandra had been bitten by some kind of insect after falling asleep on the balcony outside their room. While Ray and Sandra awaited the rest of the family at a local taverna, Chloe’s Garden, the waitress seemed to be quite disconcerted with Sandra’s bite. Responding with “I pray not” when Ray comments “at least my wife won’t get bitten here”. There were also the seemingly religious women on the bus, blessing Sandra, Tim and Jonquil (the three members of the family in total who had been bitten) every time they boarded; we found near the end of the book that it was only these three family members whom the women had been blessing, and no one else. They appeared to know that they had been tainted in some way by the island. I particularly enjoyed a scene over dinner one evening in Chloe’s Garden, in which birthday greetings of a long life were conveyed, and rebuked, as they are seen to be more than a curse by the locals.
From the start you could feel the underlying oppression, a dark force, something that wanted to feed, that needed to feed. The phrase, “They feed so Skiá feeds” becomes more and more unsettling. Even more unnerving was what felt like captivity in some ways, they just couldn’t leave the island. Boat trips cancelled, the owners of tour boats and fishing boats refusing to take them – ‘them’ referring to Sandra, Tim and Jonquil. There is a notion mentioned several times relating to ‘coming back to find your memories’, rather than to re-live them, I found this to be very unsettling indeed, what happens to you here that you forget after you leave? The story ended with the family leaving on the ferry away from the island, with Sandra, Jonquil and Tim trying to remember the details of their two week vacation. It was ambiguous yet implied that they were beginning to forget.
5/5 – If I could give it more I would. This book is beautifully thought out and so amazingly written. It really gets you thinking, and stays with you afterwards.
Lesley-Ann (The Housewife of Horror)