From the back cover:
Richard has hung out at the abandoned house in the woods during his summer vacation for as long as he can remember. But this year, he discovers that a family has moved in. The father, J. A. Dalton, is an internationally renowned artist who insists on painting Richard’s portrait, while Dalton’s wife draws the boy into her circle as though he were one of the family’s bohemian adult friends.
But it is their beautiful daughter, Clio, with whom Richard becomes obsessed. Soon he finds ways to spend days—and nights—with Clio, all the while struggling to understand and fit in with her eccentric clan. How can he know that some mysteries are best left unsolved—and that the passions of a single summer will change his life forever?
I had a misconception about this book—that Richard would discover some big family secret that would be all shocking and dramatic. This doesn’t happen, though he does learn various unflattering things about the family and the origins of his relationship with Clio. Partly because of this, but more because I didn’t like a single one of the characters, I found The Wish House to be pretty dull, unaffecting, and occasionally off-putting.
The story is framed by an older Richard’s visit to a gallery opening of Clio’s and her father’s works, where the pieces on display force him to recall memories of that summer. Richard’s an okay character, but not very interesting. Clio is even less likable, cold and remote. She comes from a screwed-up family, in my opinion, but to them the open marriage, drug use, and communal atmosphere featuring casual nudity is completely normal.
I was particularly bothered by the appearance of some half-naked, mucousy, neglected children at one point in the story, and wanted to tell Richard to get the hell away from these people. But no, he’s obsessed by Clio and the differences between their families, so he unwisely sticks around.
The best thing about the book is the evocative description of Welsh hills, woods, and coastline. And the fun Welsh accents on the excellent audio production by Random House Listening Library. These things alone are not enough to recommend it, however.