Title: The Sick Rose
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 342 pages
Publication Date: 09/06/2011
The Poison Tree. The Sick Rose. With novel titles like these, it would seem that Erin Kelly is a fan of William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and Experience. Which is certainly no bad thing. Actually, it is a great thing, as I absolutely love Blake and his poetry.
In fact, it was my realisation that Kelly’s second novel, The Sick Rose, was named after a poem from the Songs of Experience, that made me select it from the tottering pile of books on my desk [yes, the way by which I choose my next book to review really can be that arbitrary sometimes!]. And I am incredibly pleased, because this strange selection process brought a really enjoyable book into my hands.
The plot revolves around two principle characters. Louisa is a thirty-nine-year-old botanical expert who works in the gardens of an old and crumbling country house in the small village of Kelstice. But when nineteen-year-old Paul – who is in hiding after helping the police to get his dangerous childhood friend Daniel incarcerated – arrives to work in the gardens, Louisa gets a violent shock. For Paul is identical in appearance to Adam – the love of Louisa’s life – who died when she was eighteen.
As a tentative relationship begins to develop between Paul and Louisa, a series of flashbacks gradually reveal their traumatic pasts and the secrets that have brought them to Kelstice. And then their pasts begin to catch up with them…
Kelly switches expertly between the past and present story arcs, using them to build up suspense with short, snappy chapters and a series of twists and cliff-hangers – the majority of which were not what I was anticipating! And Kelly is also excellent at writing small, nuanced and completely believable human moments and details, with her characterisation, especially of teenagers, really standing out.
However, if there was one character that I didn’t feel totally worked, it is the older Louisa. The way that she acted and interacted didn’t tally with her being a thirty-nine-year-old woman, and I wonder whether this was an unconscious means by which her relationship with the far younger Paul was being justified by Kelly, as though we would be unwilling to accept it if Louisa did not ‘act young’.
That aside, though, I thought that The Sick Rose was a really engrossing and suspenseful novel that gripped me throughout. Unfortunately, I think that Kelly may have used up all of Blake’s garden-themed titles, but I am definitely looking forward to her next offering and it is not difficult to see why her debut novel, The Poison Tree, was chosen for the Richard and Judy Summer 2011 Book Club.