Huber, Linda - 'The Paradise Trees'
Alicia returns to the village she used to call home, for the summer with her young daughter, Jenny. She is returning, very reluctantly, to Lower Banford, a place of great unhappiness for her. Alicia's father has had a series of strokes and has dementia and her elderly aunt needs some help caring for him.
Alicia's relationship with her father is one of fear and loathing. The few memories she has of her childhood are painful. When she left home at 16, it was with the vow never to return. Although her father cannot speak and has limited understanding, Alicia feels that he greatly enjoys her tending to his every physical need and seems to be laughing at her. Gradually Alicia starts to remember snippets of her childhood, but cannot work out what is true and what is false. Realising her father needs full-time care, Alicia feels that her father needs to be relocated to a Home but her aunt is very reluctant, seeing it as her and Alicia’s duty to look after him in his time of need.
Alicia finds Lower Banford little changed, and reconnects with a few old good friends and makes some new ones. Her daughter loves the freedom of the woods and garden and the company of her aunt's dog who is her permanent companion. However someone is watching Alicia and Jenny. Someone who is looking for the ideal companions to join their beloved Helen amongst the Paradise Trees in the woods.
There are a great number of themes in this book: dementia and the impact of families trying to cope, painful childhood memories, child abuse, blocked memories, single parenthood, a demanding and bullying ex-partner, childhood guilt and fear and, running throughout, the psychopathic thoughts of a killer. Perhaps a few too many themes for my taste.
I felt that, sometimes, the story was a bit forced. We hear the voice of the killer and through that learn some of their background but then find that many of the people who come into Alicia's life are candidates for the role. It reminded me of the old red herring popular with Dame Agatha Christie. I also felt that, to suit the story needs, Alicia's behaviour was inconsistent and sometimes didn't ring true.
I didn't find it a totally satisfying read but, if you enjoy Barbara Vine and Sophie Hannah, you might find this interesting.
Susan White, England
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