My enormous thanks to Lauren Nicholl at Faber for sending me a surprise copy of A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion in return for an honest review. Lauren obviously knows my reader taste completely and I’m delighted to share my review of A Crooked Tree today.
Published by Faber and Faber on 28th January 2021, A Crooked Tree is available for purchase through the publisher links.
A Crooked Tree
Rage. That’s the feeling engulfing the car as Ellen’s mother swerves over to the hard-shoulder and orders her daughter out onto the roadside. Ignoring the protests of her other children, she accelerates away, leaving Ellen standing on the gravel verge in her school pinafore and knee socks as the light fades.
What would you do as you watch your little sister getting smaller in the rear view window? How far would you be willing to go to help her? The Gallagher children are going to find out. This moment is the beginning of a summer that will change everything.
My Review of A Crooked Tree
Ellen’s journey home has repercussions for the whole family.
I loved A Crooked Tree because it is beautifully written, literary and simultaneously accessible so that it mesmerises the reader and captivates them completely. It’s so difficult to define where A Crooked Tree sits, as it is part coming of age story, part intimate portrait of a dysfunctional family and community, and part thriller, but however the genre is defined, this is a fantastic read. The atmosphere builds and builds throughout with dramatic repercussions that are perfectly pitched against the quieter and more emotional and reflective aspects in a plot that I found totally compelling. Add in the vivid settings, the suspicions and superstitions linked with the almost primeval past and place and A Crooked Tree resonates across time and space.
The mountain setting is both threatening and protective. I thought the title A Crooked Tree was inspired. Not only is there a physical crooked tree that acts as a way marker on the wooded trail, but the reasons why a tree might become crooked underpin perfectly the themes of the story in a touching metaphor, especially with regard to Libby and her father. It’s not possible to explain more without spoiling both character and plot, but suffice to say, this is impressive and absorbing writing.
I felt tense much of the time I was reading because of the lurking and claustrophobic sense of dread, and the wistfulness and unhappiness that is so integral to Libby’s narrative voice. This effect penetrates the reader’s psyche until they are completely hooked, feeling Libby’s emotions with her. In fact, I adored the characterisation because of Una Mannion’s sensitive portrayal of flawed individuals doing their best. I think every one of us will have felt Libby’s rage, sadness, guilt, shame, excitement and fear at some point in our lives. Even Faye, whose actions ought to be reprehensible, garners our understanding and empathy.
A Crooked Tree is an atmospheric and affecting read that I thought was wonderful. With pitch perfect plotting, A Crooked Tree is frequently poetic and imbued with emotion that is perfectly balanced against action. This is a book to savour, to touch the reader and to celebrate. I loved it.
About Una Mannion
Una Mannion was born in Philadelphia and lives in County Sligo Ireland. She has won numerous prizes for her work including the Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award and the Doolin, Cúirt, Allingham and Ambit short story prizes. Her work has been published in The Irish Times, The Lonely Crowd, Crannóg and Bare Fiction. She edits The Cormorant, a broadsheet of prose and poetry.