Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

April 8, 2014 Reviews 0 ★★★

Thorn Abbey by Nancy OhlinThorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin
Published: May 9th 2013 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Genres: Paranormal, Thriller/Mystery
Source: Publisher
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3 Stars

Nothing is as it seems in this darkly romantic tale of infatuation and possession, inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss.

Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max.

Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go…

There are two ways to think of Thorn Abbey – as retelling of Rebecca or as a novel in its own right. A successful retelling will excel in both areas, reimagining a well loved classic and bringing it into the modern era. Thorn Abbey does well enough as a retelling, but fails almost abysmally as a standalone novel.

As a retelling of Rebecca, I think I’d give this book about 3.5 stars. If I was to forget that Thorn Abbey is a retelling, I’d probably give it 2 stars.

Thorn Abbey, the boarding school the novel is named for, is a wonderful reimagining of Manderley. It’s also adjacent to cliffs and the sea, and dark and mysterious just like the setting of the original novel. The subtle theme of paranormal shenanigans running through the novel, just like the one in Rebecca, is also very cool, with creepy haunted things happening to our protagonist, Tess.

Tess will annoy many readers. She’s shy and slow on the uptake, and lacks agency throughout the story. However, I don’t remember the unnamed protagonist of Rebecca being particularly different. I think the recasting of the protagonist is faithful, but without the lyrical writing and evocative atmosphere of Rebecca, her failings come into sharp focus.

And this is basically the biggest failing of Thorn Abbey – that it lacks the stylistic brilliance of the original novel. Everything that made Rebecca so amazing, the super creepy setting, the enigmatic characters, and the air of mystery and wrongness fail haven’t translated well in this modern retelling. Everything falls flat – Max is broody and secretive but mostly just a douchebag, unlike Maximilian who was darkly attractive despite his many faults. Devon comes across as a complete bitch, the opposite of the mentally disturbed but devoted and sympathetic Mrs. Danvers.

But the aspect of the book that really pissed me off is the portrayal of Tess’ insecurities when it comes to Becca. It went beyond ‘I’m inadequate and I’ll never be perfect’ and forayed into creepy-weird-stalker territory. Modern times mean the internet us available to the characters, yes, but the kind of weird Googling that goes in this book perplexed me. I hate it when characters magically find everything they need online, and in this case, not only did Tess conveniently find all the information she looked for every time she logged into the internet, she was really hung up on what she found there instead of questioning it.

She’s so preoccupied with Becca that she starts to think EVERYTHING has to do with her. Which leads her to make some incredibly stupid decisions and to jump to the weirdest, unlikeliest conclusions. For example, she’s on a date with Max and he goes silent for a few seconds, and instead of thinking ‘oh he’s chilling out and relaxing’, Tess goes into a full-blown panic thinking that he’s imagining being with Becca and how much better, prettier and smarter she was when compared to Tess. It defies all logic and became very annoying very quickly.

Thorn Abbey does pick up once Tess gets over herself and learns to stop comparing herself to a dead girl. This is where the paranormal aspect of the book comes into the forefront, and I enjoyed it! The ending of the book is abrupt and lacking in genuine emotion. Everyone seemed to get over what had happened too easily, especially Tess, and it seems unrealistic to me that none of the characters questioned it what had happened.

I think my love for Rebecca carried me through this book, and if I hadn’t had that masterpiece in the back of my mind all the time I would have really struggled to like Thorn Abbey. Fans of Rebecca should give it ago, and those who like paranormal/horror thrillers may also enjoy it.

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