Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully
‘They looked as if they had woken up from a bad nightmare, as if the fervour of the previous night had worn off and all that was left was shame and guilt.‘
When the remains of Maya Wiseberg’s grandmother are found in a hotel resort thousands of miles from home, Maya travels to America looking for answers. What she uncovers there are secrets and lies steeped as far back as four generations.
Twenty-seven years after her disappearance while Maya was studying abroad in America, her grandmother’s remains are found in the grounds of The Montgomery Resort in upstate New York. How did she get there and how did she die? The police claim it was an accident, but Maya suspects her grandmother may have fallen victim to a crazed killer. Desperate for answers, Maya travels once again to America, where she is drawn in to the lives and deceptions of the Montgomerys themselves.
Hotel on Shadow Lake is divisive in its narrative – we follow Maya, as well as her grandmother and several of the Montgomerys over the years. This, along with the note paper, guidebooks, letters and diary entries, meant that I found the book, at times, difficult to follow, particularly at the beginning when the intricate connections between individuals are unclear. As the story unfolds, so does the mystery, and the narrative that drives the second half of this novel is strong.
Tully thoroughly succeeds in creating an astute and clear description of Nazi Germany, and depicts the rise of the Third Reich with alarming precision. The fear and resentment surging through those who disagreed with Hitler’s ideals is palpable in the sections of the novel that explore Martha’s childhood and adolescence, as well as those written through the eyes of a war-time spy, whose name won’t be mentioned here. This chunk of the novel is the most compelling, with Martha’s character proving to be strong-willed, witty, determined, forgiving and ultimately unconditionally loving. I admired and respected her as a character, and felt more compassion for Maya in her search because of this. “Love was stronger than fear. An important life lesson.”
What’s clear from this novel is that Daniela Tully is first and foremost a story-teller. Even her characters tell stories to each other, from grandmother’s famous fairy tale dreamed up in a lonely clearing, to Maya’s spiralling lies about her own identity and reasons for being in New York. While not necessarily a wordsmith, Tully can certainly spin a yarn, and has been involved in many major projects, including box-office hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and the Oscar-winning film The Help. Suspenseful and compelling, Tully’s debut novel is as intricate as it is mysterious. A page-turner for those lazy Summer days.