The Poison Tree
The Poison Tree, sharing its title with a a William Blake poem which I will also shortly post, is a novel which has finally broken what has been a lengthy reading hiatus for me. I have attempted unsuccessfully to read Frank Herbert's Dune in this period and have struggled, aiming to return and complete it before the end of the year.
The Poison Tree is a novel which has some shortcomings and flaws yet even with that is strangely addictive. Our protaganist is Karen Clarke, a girl from a humble background who goes to university and is settling in to what promises to be a very ordinary very boring very middle class future alongside similar girls when her life collides with that of Biba, a "Bohemian" carefree spirit in whose world she not only becomes entangled in, but willingly and deliberately becomes an essential part of, so in love is she with what she sees as an extraordinary world.
The story flashes between Karen in the present day, a single mother struggling to readjust to her partners return from prison, and in Karen in the past when she first met Biba and subsequently Biba's brother Rex. I felt like I'd read a tale of "enigmatic, slightly strange, brother/sister who enthrall people whilst living in a state of shambolic decadence" before, but I am still unable to pin down which novel it was in my head, suggestions welcome
I identified with the situation of meeting someone whom you so admire and want to emulate that you are blind to their faults and failings in not a sexual sense but in an inspired sense, almost as if you had been hypnotized by them, because part of you sees the person you would like to be in them. Like being in love, yet not quite. So, I understood Karen, yet to the reader as bystander Biba is an utterly obnoxious egotist, for whom people cease to exist when no longer physically present or no longer useful or interesting. I understood this too, and so ultimately does Karen. I liked this, I thought there was very strong characterisation throughout the novel I could clearly picture Biba and Karen both.
The problem with the book is that the writing isn't perfect, I've read so many much better written novels, it is only slightly above average in the actual quality of prose department yet the plot is very enjoyable, and there were parts I didn't see coming, although perhaps I should have. The final and the largest flaw really is the way in which the initial prologue of the phonecall in the middle of the night hangs together with the end, though it is what feels like a fitting outcome, it is unbelievably quickly done, too quickly, in a sense that makes you doubt the ultimate likelihood of it happening. It is satisfying though.
This, a book about intensity in friendship, loyalty, rivalry and deception would not automatically spring to mind if asked for a recommendation, yet with that, it has stayed with me in a sense, after I finished it. It is enjoyable and not at all heavy. It is easy to see why it was on so many summer reads lists. I wouldn't say, run and get this book or your life will be incomplete, but if you are humming and haa-ing in a bookshop, you could do much worse than pick this, and ultimately I don't think you'd be sorry 7.5/10