I read A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion in a sitting and certainly enjoyed it. I am however, unsure how to describe it. I’m not a big ‘labeller’ of books. Or anything really. So I don’t mind that I find it hard to decide on this book’s ‘genre’, but I suspect I’m even going to struggle to explain what this novel is about.
The events of the book’s opening are—in many ways—the start of everything that comes after, but it feels as if the genesis of this story comes long before that. Mannion gives us glimpses into the Gallagher family’s history but I felt like something was missing. That a piece of the puzzle left unsaid or unexplained meant I entered the story too late and was playing catch-up.
A Crooked Tree
by Una Mannion
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
Ellen and Thomas are bickering in the back of the car. Libby has her forehead pressed against the window, she is dreading the coming summer.
Ellen is going too far, disturbing their mother as she drives. Libby elbows Ellen to shut her up. But Ellen doesn't stop.
When their mother pulls on to the verge and tells Ellen to 'Get Out', they all know that is what she is going to do.
What none of them know as they drive off leaving their twelve-year-old sister on the side of the road five miles from home, with the dark closing in around her, is what will happen next.
The five Gallagher children range in age from 18 to 7. It’s common knowledge, though not discussed, that the five year gap between 12 year old Ellen and the youngest Beatrice was a result of their parents’ separation and Beatrice has a different father; whose identity their mother has kept secret from everyone other than Beatrice.
Fifteen year old Libby’s got two older siblings but is seemingly responsible for her two younger ones. The family dynamics are interesting – particularly the relationships between the children, the roles they play and responsibilities they’ve taken on. Mannion offers a lot of insight into their characters and I really enjoyed this study into their behaviour and personalities.
Libby talks a lot about her father and it’s obvious the children adored him though he was far from stable. I don’t think Mannion every really clearly spells out what his issues were. We learn he’s had minimal education and possibly been homeless. I think there’s a suggestion he has a mental illness but that, along with context around his relationship with the children’s mother, felt vague. That aside, there’s a definite sense he was devoted to his children.
I was less clear about their mother. Her role here in minimal. Indeed, her role in their lives seems minimal. I didn’t get a clear picture about the why. Is she self-absorbed? Uncaring? Depressed?
A mother ‘dumping’ her 12 year old on the side of the road miles from home in a deserted area when night is looming seems unfathomable. More so when she makes no effort once night comes, to get her.
It’s probably a spoiler but Ellen’s attacked (or at risk of attack but escapes). The children are afraid to tell their mother so band together to care for Ellen’s physical and emotional injuries. Oldest sibling Marie involves an older boy, barely a man who seeks to find Ellen’s attacker and seek revenge.
This story revolves around actions and repercussions. Revenge leads to a desire for payback; but of course the chain of events that ultimately change the lives of the Gallagher family, all trace back to Ellen being left on the side of the road.
In addition to a focus on familial relationships, the unfolding narrative also examines friendships, secrets and trust. I really liked Libby and felt that Mannion did a great job at engaging readers in her story. It was impossible not to feel her desperation, though her actions were—of course—a little naive at times.
I found the ending however, to be little unexpected. I’d become embroiled in this story (Libby and Ellen’s story) and felt a sense of loss or lack of fulfilment on finishing. Of course having said that, life doesn’t always offer ‘happily ever afters’.
A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.