The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly

I’m reading Erin Kelly’s second novel before her first.

I did pick up The Poison Tree last year, from the new books shelf in the library. It wasn’t a book I knew anything about, but striking design and a blurb that referenced both Rebecca and The Secret History pulled me in.

Sadly though, the story didn’t hold me. It was told in the present tense and it seemed to be walking a well-trodden, maybe over-trodden path. I gave up, and took the book back to the library.

Some months later I began to read more about The Poison Tree. Many words of praise, and I was told that there was a very good reason for the present tense narration. I decided to try the book again.

But before it reappeared I spotted the Sick Rose, Erin Kelly’s second novel. A title, and maybe a theme, borrowed from William Blake was much too much to resist.

The book came home, and I am pleased to report that it is a gem. A dark gem.

The Sick Rose twists together two lives. Two lives bent out of shape by distorted relationships.

Louisa is a horticulturist, working on the restoration of historic gardens. But she is haunted, and her life is constrained, by her relationship with a young musician. A relationship that ended, tragically, nearly twenty years ago. And yet she cannot let go.

Paul is a petty criminal, sent to Louisa’s project to keep him safe. Until he gives crucial evidence against a former friend, charged with murder. Paul is terrified that his past will catch up with him.

Louisa is drawn to Paul, who bears a remarkable resemblance to her lost love, and they slowly, tentatively, move towards a relationship.

Meanwhile, just as slowly, the truth about the past is revealed. A past that, maybe, they will be unable to escape…

The Sick Rose is very cleverly structured, moving between two past stories and the present in chapters that are both long enough to draw you in and yet short enough to keep the right sense of dislocation when the scenery shifted.

And the details of young lives, immature emotions, were caught perfectly. The details were right, and Erin Kelly allowed both the emotions of the time and the later, more mature, understanding to shine. Very clever. And clever too how she threaded themes through two very different stories of very different characters.

For me though, the present day story was less successful. It felt a little contrived, and there was less subtlety, less detail, a little less of everything to hold the interest.

But the characters held everything together. Flawed but utterly real characters.

And they held me, intrigued and wanting to know what on earth would happen, through all of the twists and turns of the story.

Sometimes I could see where the story was going, but more often I was taken by surprise.

The ending was unexpected, and yet it was right.

And a postscript tied up the last loose end. I almost wished it hadn’t: it was a little contrived, and I think I would have prefered to be left to wonder …

Because the story was so compelling, the characters so intriguing, that I would have liked to hold on for just a little longer.

But I have The Poison Tree to go back to, and I’ll be very interested to see what Erin Kelly writes next.

11 responses

  1. I had no idea Erin Kelly had a second book. My cousin is reading The Poison Tree right now and due to her urgings, I have been meaning to pick it up. I would like to read this one too–I love William Blake, so any reference to him, however slight, intrigues me.

    • This one is only just out – I seem to be lucky in finding Erin kelly’s books when they forst appear on the library shelves.

  2. I had the same reaction to The Poison Tree that you did. I bought it for my Kindle and it is still sitting on there, half unread. However, you have inspired me to try it again. I think I may be in the perfect mood for a twisty-turny, dark story!

  3. I read The Poison Tree a few months ago and while at points I could have taken or left it, it all came out good in the end (with a great twist) and I’m glad I read it.

    I haven’t heard so many great reports for The Sick Rose yet (although it is very new) but I definitely want to read it sooner rather than later. Thanks for the review 🙂

    • I was at a point where I could take it or leave it when I gave up on The Poison Tree, but this one definitley inspires me to try again. I’m pleased to hear there is a good twist.

  4. I am one of the people who has yet to read The Poison Tree but have read lots about it around the blog world. I think I will probably pick the book up and see, as the premise is something which I would normally go for. That said so is The Sick Rose and I think I might be looking for this as well.

    A good review, certainly has me intrigued.

    • I’d forgotten The Poison Tree until it was picked up by Richard & Judy. I do like the premise, but it sounds rather similar to a few other books I’ve read. We shall see!

  5. It took me a long while to read The Poison Tree for the very same reason as you – it sounded so very similar to a couple of other books I have read.
    And there were definitely sections in it when if some other book had beckoned, I would quite happily have abandoned it, but it did get better and the twist was definitely unexpected.
    I will look out for The Sick Rose as it sounds another interesting story.

  6. Loved the Poison Tree – have just read Great House by Nicole Krauss, and one of the story lines involves a pair of siblings that are so like Rex and Biba in that book, it is hard to believe one didn’t influence the other.

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