Book Reviews at Tertulia
A Crooked Tree & People Like Us - Book REviews SpringTime.
A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion
‘The night we left Ellen on the road we drove up the mountain in silence.’
This is the opening line of Una Mannion’s new book. It sets the tone, draws you in and caresses you into addiction…addiction to turning the next page to see what happens. Like a car crash, you don’t necessarily want to look but you can’t peel your eyes away.
The title of Mannion’s book, A Crooked Tree is slightly unusual. Is it a metaphor? Is it an event in the book itself?
Not exactly. The crooked tree in this story marks a turn off in the forest pathway that alerts fifteen year old Lotty (the protagonist) to her place of sanctuary, a place for secrets. She has a special affinity with nature, and trees, knowing that the crooked tree was maimed by a fallen branch or another uprooted tree but withstood the pressure regardless.
This book is about a teenager withstanding real and imagined pressures in her short life.
Her mother, suffering from intense grief, or perhaps something more sinister, pulls over in the twilight and demands that Ellen, the middle child of the family get out of the car. Ignoring the protests of her other children, she accelerates away, leaving Ellen stranded on the gravel verge in her school uniform, her knee socks pulled up as the light fades in the distance.
What would you do as your watch your little sister getting smaller in the rear view mirror?
This is the story of the aftermath of this action, with terrible unintended consequences.
Una Mannion was born in Philadelphia but lives in county Sligo. She has won numerous prizes for her work, not least of all the Doolin, Cúirt, Allingham and Ambit short story award. This book is her first novel and is crafted with care and attention.
The undertow of unease drips from every page and I found myself uncomfortable as I read about Libby’s life in 1980’s Philadelphia. She walks to her babysitting job through the woods every Friday night, sometimes in the dark. She happens to find herself in the company of real and imagined predators and all the while the unreliable narration of her father, dead, materialises at the edges.
This novel also offers glimpses of friendship, love, resilience and the bond between siblings. I couldn’t put it down but at times, found myself wanting to. is a no holes bared look at an inciting incident in the lives of the characters that unfold as the pages are turned.
I dare you to look away.
People Like Us by Louise Fein
People Like Us by Louise Fein is a novel exploring the indoctrination of a person’s heart and mind. Indoctrination is when a message is repeated, enforced and reinforced until it is difficult to decipher what is truth and what is constructed. This book is about the fragility of our free will, something that we take for granted.
Do you know areas of your life where you are being fed a particular truth? Are you aware of this process of indoctrination? Surely this only happens in the pages of fiction.
People Like Us sheds a light on manipulation, on dissent and those who speak it, those who have opinions and views different to the masses. Is it important to listen to these views or should we silence them?
If you think this is a book about modern society, and how we are evolving (or not) you would be forgiven.
The novel is actually set during the rise of Nazism in Leipzig, Germany in the late 1930’s; a story told from the perspective of a naïve German girl, Hetty Heinrich. She is the daughter of an SS officer, with a brother in the Luftwaffe, and a mother who believe in the sacredness of the Führer.
Hetty is the model young woman, who will champion Germany to a bright future. That is until Walter, a blond haired, blue eyed Jew poses questions that Hetty finds difficult to answer.
Walter saved Hetty’s life. There is a bond between them that the hard, anti-semetism laws of the city cannot seem to break.
The novel was inspired by the author’s own family history and though the subject matter is sensitive, Fein writes with great passion, urgency and a sense of understanding. The power of love and the potential of human kindness leads us through this hard hitting debut.
Fein’s dedication at the opening of the book puts us in mind of the themes; indoctrination, truth and the fragility of freedom. Her text is chilling in that she can draw parallels between the 1930’s Nazi movement and what is happening today in modern society.
Ultimately this novel is a look at how normal people, or people like us, can get caught up in what is prevalent in society. It is a reminder to always return back to what is most sacred – our humanity and the connection to others.