Book review: The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood

Sunday, July 21, 2019 Permalink

This is an interesting book. Interesting and frustrating in some ways. It’s a reminder though that we all have our beliefs… ones we assume to be the correct. We’re often raised with these beliefs so don’t question their veracity. It’s a given (for us) that it’s others who are wrong. Particularly if THEIR beliefs seem diametrically opposed. 

Book review: The Poison Garden by Alex MarwoodThe Poison Garden
by Alex Marwood
Published by Sphere
on July 23rd 2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 0751565997
Pages: 400

Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.

Now 22, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone - and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.

Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago.

And that you can't walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you . . .

This book opens as police officers come across bodies of members of a cult. Oops… sorry, SPOILER!

Mistakenly I’d assumed we were going to be spending time with the police officer we meet in the opening pages but she disappears as the story of the survivors of Plaus Golau starts.

The book unfolds in several timeframes. Ostensibly it’s told in the ‘now’ which leaps forward a few times in the beginning before slowing to an absorbable pace. We soon learn there are a few survivors of Plaus Golau; the sole adult being 21yr old Romy. We spend snatches of time with her while she’s in hospital, then a psychiatric facility, halfway house, before being released into her own care.

And in the present there’s also Sarah. She’s Romy’s aunt. Her sister (Alison aka Somer) left before Romy was born and their parents cut off all contact. At the time Sarah was a child, but she’s conscious now that over 20 years have passed and she’s not attempted to track down her sister or niece.

And suddenly she’s told (in addition to Romy) she has a teenage niece and nephew in need of a guardian. Sarah’s torn as she’s not had the happiest of lives and only now feels free of her religious and overbearing parents and an unhappy marriage. She plans on travel; not taking in traumatised children who aren’t accustomed to living in the outside world.

This story, however is mostly Romy’s. It’s told from her point of view, but in the present she’s obviously got her secrets. We soon learn she is kinda ready (though not prepared) for life among the Dead – which is what they call everyone outside their commune.

We’re taken back (and forth) to Romy’s early years at the camp and introduced to its leaders and their philosophies. They’re kinda doomsdayers – for the want of a better term – prepping for the end of the world believing that only they will survive as they’re untainted by the devilish life the rest of the world leads.

Romy is the only adult surviving member of the Ark (or Plaus Golau). A therapist suggests she might have survivor’s guilt. Romy disagrees.

I’ve spent my entire life being trained for survival. Surviving the Apocalypse was all we ever thought about. It was our purpose and our identity. Being a survivor is something to celebrate, not feel guilty about. I’ve done exactly what I was meant to do. p12

Unlike some cults though, procreating is closely managed by Lucien (Father) and his ‘partner’ Vita. They decide who will bed who and only when. And then there’s Lucien’s own children, one of whom will be The One (to lead them after the apocalypse) and he handpicks women from the Ark to ummm…. bless with his fruit.

Of course on the outside looking in, it’s everything we (ON the outside) fear. The way incorrect fallacies are indoctrinated into its members and the hypocrisy etc of many of its leaders. There’s a sense of awakening for some, but alas alack….

Marwood takes us back and forth into Plaus Golau over a 15-16 year period, as Romy comes of age and understanding. And eventually takes us back to the events immediately preceding the book’s opening – in which the police break down the gate to discover the cult members’ bodies.

In the now, Sarah’s taken in her niece and nephew and keen to track down Romy. Just as Romy is eager to find her siblings.

I found it more challenging to identify with Romy and her siblings on the outside. It’s understandable. They’re different and they’re not as open to new ideas as you’d think.

Marwood does a good job of exposing the cult members we meet to life among ‘the Dead’ and I think that’s probably one of the better elements of this book. The kids aren’t released from the cult, their eyes opened to the good stuff in the world and  forget their past. In fact it’s the opposite. I found myself frustrated that no one tried harder to dispel their beliefs about the end of the world, though Sarah attempts to and realises her mistake and doesn’t want to push her remaining family away, the way her parents did with her sister.

So… there’s a strong sense that our beliefs can be so ingrained that they defy logic (though guess that’s subjective as well). Here they don’t really seem to be challenged though and I would have liked for Romy, Eden and Ilo to actually have had to consider that their views may not be correct. Certainly their mother had a wake-up call not long before the book opens.

But, of course that’s just me wanting things to be cut and dry, black or white. Right or wrong. Who the hell knows?

Most of us – no matter our religion or lack of it – assume we’re correct. Our beliefs are logical and everyone else’s irrational.

We’re possibly all wrong about all kinds of stuff. I mean, I’m fairly certain the earth isn’t flat. But perhaps it isn’t round either. Perhaps it’s some shape we can’t yet see because we don’t have the technology. Perhaps one day people will laugh that at ‘we round-earthers’.

Anyhoo… I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but was riveted and read it in a sitting; needing to know what happened. And even though I was a tad frustrated ultimately, we kinda get closure and if you’re like me, your ability to ‘accept’ that with which you don’t agree will offer up a challenge of sorts.

The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood will be published in Australia by Hachette and available from 23 July 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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