The Red Tree by Caitlin R Kiernan

ImageThis is not a ‘scare-your-pants-off’ horror book. There is some gore and blood. However, the emphasis lies in creating doubt in an unsettling atmosphere and inconsistent happenings.

The location (Rhode Island) and its attached history, environment and climate are all easily evoked from writings, film or art experienced in the past. Its focus is an appropriately red oak tree and the gradually unearthing of layers of events in different parts of the past and present which intersect in the sharing of a remote house by two artistic women who have ghosts of their own to lay, one a writer with a deadline, the other a demonic Bacon-like painter.

The book, in fact, is presented as the edited last work of Sarah Crowe (great name given the location) who has suicided.

It has to be said that many things in the book may appear to arise from the life and experiences of its author, Caitlin Kiernan. In fact, the brusque, smoking, drinking, sceptical, biology-interested orientation of the main character shares a lot with her.

There are the usual suspects of noises, objects that appear and disappear and disorienting experiences. Clever, at times fascinating, at times infuriating, use is made of the theme of forgetfulness. Whether as a result of the main character’s epilepsy or something more sinister, the reader is increasingly unsure of what to take as real. Clever use is made of realistic dialogue while the scene description has an austere sparseness which is only occasionally lost.

As someone with emerging eye problems, I must have a whinge about the use of a typeface intended to set apart the found manuscript which sets in train much of the action. The script certainly has the fineness of an old typewriter script and its faintness but created a chore I could have done without.

In summary, a good read, interesting and atmospheric with enough messing with the reader’ s head to put it well ahead of conventional mystery – horror offerings.

~ John C.

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