The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

One of the most gripping novels I have read this year. Prepare for Kelly to become master of your imagination.

Something about the cover, blurb and title of this book has excited me ever since I saw it appear on the Richard and Judy Summer reading list this year. The offer of scandal and mystery proving all too tempting. In an unprecedented reading spree I flew through the delectable pages of Erin Kelly’s debut novel this weekend, and now I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

When the reticent, straight laced Karen meets the wild, bohemian and instantly fabulous Biba at a college notice board she is immediately captivated and infatuated by the energy and free spiritedness of this young, beautiful aspiring actress. For years Karen has done exactly what is expected of her, got the right grades, gone to the best college, dated the ‘perfect’ boyfriend. And yet something always felt missing. Karen has lived in a state of apathy and the sudden rush of Biba into her life gives her a taste of excitement, rousing her from her dull and structured life.

The excitement that Karen feels upon meeting Biba, and her subsequent need to be a part of her life is contagious and I found myself urging Karen to seek Biba out, to immerse herself in her world. On the cusp of her first exciting, carefree and reckless summer Karen bubbles with anticipation for the long, hedonistic months ahead, and the feeling electrifies the novel. But just how much will this perfect summer cost Karen? Can she really lose her innocence and inhibitions without anyone getting hurt?

From the very first pages Kelly plants a seed of doubt, she nourishes it with mysterious hints to a tragic accident and lost lives. Cryptic clues pile on top of ominous suggestions; prepare to be on the edge of your seat throughout this novel.

I wont give away too much of this novel, I don’t want to spoil it for a first time reader, especially since I felt a deep sadness upon finishing it as I realized I was now robbed of ever reading it with fresh eyes. But needless to say from start to finish it flows with a sense of intrigue, crackles with anticipation and delights with a heightened sense of drama.

After Karen’s first chance encounter with Biba an instantaneous friendship is sparked and soon Karen is leaving her stringent, stuffy home which she shares with her overtly organized flat mates to live in the eccentric, messy but wonderfully captivating home of Biba and her brother Rex. A crumbling town house which defecates the perfectly manicured homes lining the rest of the affluent street in Highgate. But this is exactly what attracts Karen, she craves a life far removed from the order and predictability that she has become accustomed to.

Abandoning her previous home Karen encapsulates the innocence and vulnerability of someone desperate to shake off her shackles, of course this indeed leaves her blind to the dangers around her; the dangers that Kelly slowly and tantalizingly pertains to. Desperate to immerse herself in the abandon of Biba’s world Karen soon finds herself falling into a family whose past is as murky and deeply rooted in obscurity. But all of this must be learnt along the way and Karen moves swiftly in, without ever looking back.

Kelly adds an extra edge of suspension to the novel in the form of her fleeting narrative which switches from past to present. In the past we learn about the events that shaped that tragic summer spent in Highgate, in the present we join Karen as she lives her life ten years on in Surrey. She describes her life as being entirely different in the present, indeed it is clear how deeply that irrevocable summer has shaped the woman she is now. Cagey, protective and always afraid and looking over her shoulder, but what is she afraid of? And even more mysteriously, Karen is now living with Rex, Biba’s older brother; the taciturn and overly protecting man that at first threatened to spoil the reckless fun that she hoped would shape her summer.

The tension of the novel boils as we switch back and forth in time. Questions piling up along the way, why has Rex being in prison, how did he and Karen end up marrying and having a child together. What happened that summer and why is Biba missing from the present day?

As the story wears on the truth begins to reveal itself only for more clandestine secrets to present themselves. One thing is for sure Rex surely seems to know the capabilities of Biba’s wild abandon and he alone fears the consequences of her actions. When Biba brings home Guy an arrogant drug dealer with a murky  background both Rex and Karen find themselves fearing the worst. What will this trouble maker do to the perfect equilibrium that Karen has just so recently found?

When I finished this book I was literally left quite speechless, a book hugging moment might have been a little inappropriate given the dark nature of the novel, but I loved it all the same. Now I’m desperate to try her next novel the Sick Rose. if Kelly can weave the same magic on me as she did in The Poison Tree then I think I will have found a new favourite author.

Have you read either The Poison Tree or The Sick Rose? If so what did you think? Or have you heard of this book but haven’t quite got round to reading it yet, but want to? Either way I would love to hear all of your thoughts.



10 thoughts on “The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

  1. I haven’t read either The Poison Tree or The Sick Rose. I knew The Poison Tree was on the Richard and Judy Summer reading list and I must have read the blurb at some point, but it just didn’t jump out at me. I had no intention of reading it. Now that I’ve read your review I think I probably will. I shouldn’t have dismissed it so easily.

  2. I’d be very happy to loan you a copy, I honestly can’t praise the book enough. To be honest i think it’s hard to go of just a blurb, rarley do they do the book justice. When I first read the blurb for The Novel In The Viola I was really non plused but I actually really enjoyed the book.

    • Yes please. 🙂 I would like to borrow it if you don’t mind. Could I be cheeky and borrow Grace Williams too? I’ve finished with Human Croquet if you still want it. I’ll bring it to the Book Club.

      This does sound like a very good book. I think I’ll enjoy it too.

  3. Yeah off course you can, I will bring them to the next Book Group. Do hope you like The Poison Tree, it’s one of my favourites of this year.

    Funny you should mention Human Croquet, I’m just reading When Will There Be Good News, another one of her books. That would be great thanks, is the book good?

  4. I must admit that I borrowed this from the library last year, but I didn’t get past the opening chapters because I disliked the present tense narrative. Since then I have read so much praise, and been told that there is a good reason for the choice of tense. and I am now in a queue at the library waiting to give the book another go.

  5. Hi there,

    It’s true that the present tense isn’t quite as fun as the past and I did also struggle with it a little at first. But you soon get passed that and it definitely serves a purpose in the story. It adds tension and mystery to the novel which in turn gives the book intrigue. Eventually the present tense started to spur on my curiosity.

    I hope you enjoy it when you get tp read it. Let me know how you find it : )

  6. It sounds an interesting a book, and I have sort of looked at it a few times and then moved onto something else.

    Perhaps the library might be the way to go, if I am not so sure.

  7. I just finished the Poison Tree, and have read some reviews that it was tedious and too detailed ect, I’m not known for my patience when it comes to reading if it is too detailed I tend to lose interest, at first I was a little annoyed at the hints to the plot but Ms. Kelly not really saying what had happened, but as soon as I got to a different mindset and just read each chapter as sort of an individual essay and enjoyed her beautiful writing I really began to enjoy the book, once you are about a third of the way through the story emerges but in the meanwhile enjoy the writing for the writings sake.

    I’m trying to find a copy of the Sick Rose to ready, local library doesn’t have it and Amazon doesn’t have it either, really wanted to download it to my kindle but looks like I’m going to have to order it from a smaller book seller.

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