Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Cottagers.
Set in an exotic locale, The Cottagers blends the self-absorbed lives of summer tourists with the locals supported by their trade, a contrast of the expectations of the entitled and the petty resentments of those who make a living from the comfort and entertainment of others. In addition, a mysterious disappearance adds another element to a provocative and sometimes disturbing novel.
Expecting an idyllic month in the luxurious cabin in East Sooke, Vancouver Island, two academic couples meet to enjoy a temporary freedom from their frantic lives in the cabin set deep in the wilderness. Samina and Nicholas, Laurel and Greg, are not particularly close but comfortable with their arrangement, the exotic Samina’s small daughter, Hilda, a welcome distraction from any problems that surface.
The natives and “the cottagers” never mingle, but a local nineteen-year-old, Cyrus Collingwood, has developed the habit of watching the cottagers through the lenses of his expensive binoculars, a pair stolen from another couple shortly before they returned to the city. Brilliant and eccentric, Cyrus is a keen observer of human nature, slyly insinuating himself into the lives of the new arrivals.
Making friends with Hilda, Cyrus seems non-threatening, if a bit intrusive. Soon the couples accept the young man into their circle, finding him helpful and entertaining. Cyrus settles in, happy to be of service, whispering secrets and planting doubts that subtly alter the balance of the couples’ relationships.
Cyrus mentions to Greg, who is flailing about for a new project, that his reclusive father is compiling a biography of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland. Excited, Greg begins scheming to meet the elder Collingwood and discover if there is new information he can access for his own use.
But all that seems insignificant when Nicholas suddenly disappears during an outing to a local park with Greg. Pursuing his own interests, Greg has no idea what has happened to Nicholas; the police are called in when Samina’s husband fails to return after a reasonable time. Although Greg is under suspicion, there are really no clues to Nicholas’s fate, Samina caught in an agony of suspense.
Of course, the tourist’s disappearance is neither simple nor innocent, a dark reality that casts a pall over the remaining days of a vacation turned nightmare. Indeed, as time passes and the characters continue their lives in shock and the inevitable acceptance of reality, there is one who unexpectedly benefits from the tragedy.
It is Cyrus who disturbs the uneven symmetry of the vacation, unleashing the unspoken fear of what-if that becomes all too real, the cottagers finally set against one another with bared teeth. The vast wilderness imbued with an eerie unpredictability, Nicholas’s disappearance changes everything. The star of the piece is the seductive, lush landscape of Vancouver Island, as it virtually absorbs the missing tourist, the others left to fend for themselves.