I ran across the book trailer for The Poison Tree, and I knew I had to have the book. The trailer is HERE. Go watch it; I’ll wait. Waiting … Waiting …
Okay, so doesn’t that make you say, “I need to know more.” Maybe I have an over-active imagination and love of all things creepy, but it made me long to read this book. I sent off for a copy, and the cover intrigued me almost as much as the trailer. Bravo, publicist and design department, bravo!
Now that I’ve given marketing praise where marketing praise is due, let’s talk about the author of The Poison Tree, Erin Kelly. Erin Kelly is the kind of woman you want to dislike. She’s beautiful, British, a mere six years my senior, and she’s better than most (maybe all) of the authors on the bestseller list. So why do I want to dislike her? Because, after three pages of her novel, I wanted to give up on writing.
This has happened to me before. It happens when I come upon someone who is so talented, they make me feel inferior. They make me realize I will never be as good as they are, and Erin Kelly is an example of this extreme ability. This woman even challenges Carlos Ruiz Zafon—a man who has mastered language as Frida Kahlo mastered pain in paint. If Erin Kelly were a rock star or social media guru, they’d make a movie about her. I’m serious.
The Poison Tree is Kelly’s first novel. (Imagine how good she’ll be by her third!) It’s told in first-person, through the voice of sheltered language student, Karen, who’s sick of her straight-laced life. When Karen stumbles upon a strange young woman seeking a language tutor, she finally feels alive. She leaves behind her boring life to follow this whimsical woman—known as Biba—to a party at Biba’s home in Highgate. Although I’ve never been to England, Erin Kelly paints a perfect picture. I can see the house in Highgate. I can see the street and the lush forest behind. I can smell the London air, and I can feel Karen’s wonder over this new world of drugs, sex, and most importantly, Biba.
Biba has a charismatic brother, Rex. He’s an unemployed semi-house-husband (although he has no wife), who spends most of his time worrying about Biba. Here’s where it all starts, with the worry. Why is Rex worried about Biba? Did something happen to Biba when she was younger? Where are their parents? And how can they afford to live in the huge Highgate house? Question, questions, questions …
It’s questions that make The Poison Tree a must-read. The story of Karen, Biba, and Rex is told through two time periods. Most of the book takes place in the fateful summer of 1997, when they all met. The other parts take place ten years later, when Karen picks Rex up from prison—prison, where he’s been for the past ten years. Why is Rex in prison? What happened in the summer of 1997? Where is Biba, ten years later? Questions, questions, questions …
The fact is, from page one of The Poison Tree, you know something bad is going to happen. Maybe that’s why I loved it so much. I’m not a stickler for happy endings. I’m a fan of foreboding. I like reading a book that is beautiful and yet, tragic. Erin Kelly makes it possible. In the midst of a beautiful description of a sunny day in London, she mentions something sinister. Even in the happiest of moments, our narrator knows something is wrong. I feel like Karen knew from day one that the house in Highgate was a bad place. Yet, Karen never turns away.
As reader, I must tell you, I did turn away once or twice. The Poison Tree, albeit an example of perfection in prose, is a dark book. As I said, you know something bad is coming. It’s unavoidable. The Poison Tree is not a beach read. It’s something you must prepare for. I do blame the prose. Kelly pulls you in with every word. After a couple chapters, you are there—in London, 1997. You are watching it all unfold, hoping that somehow, Karen will make it out okay. You know she won’t, but it’s impossible to stop once you’ve begun.
I won’t tell you the ending, but I will tell you, it stuck with me for days. That’s what good books do—they haunt you. Like the ashes of a dead relative, good books call to you from the shelf, whispering, “Remember me?” The Poison Tree isn’t a good book; it’s a great book. To quote an overused cliché, Erin Kelly is gonna be a star. Her next book comes out June, 2011, and you better believe I’ll be at the front of the line.