on 10 October 2009
The first thing to mention is the old adage: Don't judge a book by it's cover. Seriously. This is not another Paranormal Romance. This is something very, very special.
The second thing to mention is that for more eloquent reviews, simply google for them, particularly the review by writer and lovecraftian scholar S T Joshi. These people are far more articulate than myself so I shall let them do their job and I shall be brief and, hopefully, helpful.
In my opinion Ms Kiernan is one of the finest writers of weird/speculative fiction currently living and The Red Tree finds her yet again doing the impossible; improving. The novel is written as a journal received by an agent and as such has a most distinctive voice of Sarah Crowe. It details... well, what does it detail? A descent into a terrifying insanity? The workings of deep time and old lore upon a land until the land becomes a voice of its own with the Red Tree its baleful glare? A tragic tale of a woman reaching the end of her road? All or none of the above, woven with some autobiographical textures from Ms Kiernan herself. To say the Red Tree is multi-layered is as gentle an understatement as saying it is a remarkable piece of writing. It casts shadows of the quality of Bradbury and Lovecraft and Blackwood to name a few, but always with a most distinct and unique voice. It is a work concerned with the darkest folklore in those remote counties and yet a very, very modern setting somehow that seems to bring the sense of time even more to the fore. The twists time puts on tales simply one of the layers it explores.
If you have never read any of her work, this is where you start. If I haven't convinced you, as I say seek out proper reviewers online, but mostly: treat yourself to a dark, wonderful journey.
Oh, and please read the preface....
Author Sarah Crowe moves to a farmhouse, the "old Wight Place" in New England to write her next book in solitude, where she stumbles across an old-fashioned typewriter and an unfinished manuscript both once owned by the late Charles L. Harvey. His story, a personal diary, describes his research of 'the red tree.' The very same tree whose foreboding presence can still be seen from Sarah's kitchen window. And it's giving her nightmares.
As Sarah reads Harvey's diary, she starts to write her own and discovers the dead man's unhealthy obsession for the ancient oak is now rapidly growing into her own inescapable living hell. The fine line between reality, her disturbing dark dreams of Amanda, her dead lover, and the strange sirens of doom distort her mind until she can no longer tell reality from her imagination. Will Sarah be able to escape being the tree's next sacrifice or was her fate, like that of her ex- lover Amanda and previous tenant Charles, sealed the moment she walked through the cottage door?
Caitlin R. Kiernan is a new-to-me author with an amazing, yet macabre imagination! The Red Tree is so believable, tightly written and damned scary, I truly felt like I was reading a dead girl's diary. It amazed me how I could feel the suffocating New England heat one minute and the next I'd be chilled to the bone by the startling, ever-watchful, tree's evil presence, which loomed over this story like a shadowy ghost with a mind of its own. If you like books that spook you then The Red Tree will leave you satisfyingly unsettled making you switch on the lights before entering dark rooms. I'm a fan of Edwardian and Victorian ghost stories in the style of M.R. James, Bierce, Poe, and Lovecraft (these and other like authors are mentioned within), and this has that cold icy touch of ghostly, gothic horror mixed with the appeal of days long past, only written in modern times. Kiernan plays on a deep-rooted fear of powerful superstitions, dark magic, ancient rituals and mythical legends we'd rather not uncover and captures the anguished souls of the dead, unwilling to die. A detailed, intelligent and suspenseful plot that will fill your nights (and days) with an intense, growing uneasiness as you read. This author is definitely at the top of the tree when it comes to dark fantasy.
Re; Mass Market first edition published in UK 9th December 2010
on 28 May 2015
First off. DO NOT LET THE COVER FOOL YOU!
This is not urban fantasy/paranormal romance. This is a beautifully written piece of literary weird/cosmic horror. Whoever ok’d this cover doesn’t seem to have read the book.
Taking the form of a journal kept by Sarah Crow, an author grieving the suicide of her partner, The Red Tree is a sumptuously written examination of grief, anger, loneliness and the effects these can have on a person’s sanity. Kiernan is masterful at her deployment of the unreliable narrator. The concept of the unreliable narrator being one that runs throughout this story; and, indeed, is carried on in her next novel The Drowning Girl.
The plot of the novel revolves around an ancient tree sitting just within sight of a farm house Sarah has rented in order to both work on her novel and try and deal with her grief. The tree is steeped in monstrous lore and terrible legends linked to barbarous rituals, serial killers and suicides. These myths and legends weave themselves into Sarah’s story, into her grief, her loss and begin to fragment her sense of self and reality.
As with all of Kiernan’s work The Red Tree is gorgeously written and a joy to read. Her prose is exceptional in the field of weird/horror writing and why she hasn’t won more awards I do not know.
Still, I don’t know what the hell is going on with that cover…
on 6 February 2010
More than a decade ago, after an arc on The Dreaming - DC Comics' hypnotic spin-off from the pages of The Sandman - Caitlin R. Kiernan came to the attention of many a dark fantasy fan with her stunning debut novel Silk, an endlessly lyrical fable of spiders, dreams and darkness which bewitched, besides a legion of readers, the likes of Clive Barker, Peter Straub and Poppy Brite. Three years on, the "poet and bard of the wasted and lost" (as Neil Gaiman so aptly describes her) conjured up a second story at least the equal of the first: for all the wonders of Silk, and there were many, it was, at times, perhaps a little self-indulgent. The nightmarishly twisted Threshold, by comparison, pared down the navel-gazing and marked a vital stage in the continuing evolution of Kiernan's mesmeric prose.
There have been sequels to each tale since, with the author juggling two memorable casts of characters in two fantastic universes through Low Red Moon, Daughter of Hounds and Murder of Angels. Like a good fan, I've followed them loyally - and enjoyed every one, I should say - but I'll be the first to admit: I'd begun to long for another original narrative from the inimitable Kiernan's pen.
Thankfully, The Red Tree is exactly that, and short of a few foibles, it's every bit the equal of the most startling works in this reclusive writer's back-catalogue. The unforgettable story of Sarah Crowe serves to wipe clean the slate upon which Kiernan has been scribbling addendums since her last truly innovative work; gone are the tiresome black-clad twentysomethings who have populated the majority of her pages to date; there's no need, this time out, to be familiar with the ins and outs of the characters of Silk and Threshold; and while the impressionistic leanings of those novels and the like are certainly present in The Red Tree, they're not so central to its narrative that readers who were dissuaded by the hallucinatory realities of Kiernan's previous fiction need fear.
The Red Tree is a departure, then - certainly it represents the greatest leap forward this criminally underappreciated author has made since her striking second novel - but not such a one that those of us who have enjoyed Kiernan's work in the past should approach it trepidatiously. The motifs and themes she has mined so successfully before are in full force throughout The Red Tree. There are dreams and drugs within its pages; there's sex, suicide, tunnels and trilobites.
There are problems, too, regrettable moments where Kiernan indulges her narrator too much - foremost among them a transparent rant about bad reviews on Amazon that the author has herself eschewed. If I could level only a single complaint at The Red Tree, however, Kiernan wouldn't be on the receiving end of it, but rather the brainless marketing executive who in one fell swoop spoils what would otherwise have been a lovely cover by slapping a mean-looking brunette over Gene Mollica's evocative artwork. Truly, if any of Kiernan's novels has deserved a lavishly illustrated edition from the geniuses at Subterranean Press... but I digress.
Kiernan acknowledges a great deal of film and fiction as inspiration for The Red Tree in her afterword: a touch of The Blair Witch Project in her evocative choice of setting and an increasingly foreboding atmosphere sure to put you in mind of Edgar Allen Poe is the least of it. Lovecraftian monstrosities are glimpsed but never seen, Lewis Carroll is quoted repeatedly in the last act as the refreshingly middle-aged protagonist tumbles ever further down her own rabbit hole, but the tale of Sarah Crowe - an increasingly unreliable narrator as time and terror wears on the waning writer - resembles nothing so closely as Mark Z. Danielewski's incredible House of Leaves.
The Red Tree is metafiction at its finest: purportedly composed of a journal found by Crowe's long-suffering editor after the author's inexplicable disappearance, a onionskin of intertwining, even contradictory narratives soon unravel from the core of Crowe's troubled diary entries. To begin with, an introduction from her editor sets the scene for the literary equivalent of found footage in the vein of Paranormal Activity, but within the journal Crowe relates, amongst other things, a short story she may or may not have written, passages from works of fiction and fact alike, even the transcription of selected sections of a manuscript she finds in the basement of the Rhode Island cabin she has resigned herself to.
Crowe, unlike Kiernan, is an author searching desperately for an identity. She has rented a room with a view of the titular tree about which so many horror stories are told in large part as inspiration; she comes to the great red oak in search of the voice she fears she has lost, but finds much more beneath its boughs than her muse. Kiernan, meanwhile, has rarely seemed so confident, so self-possessed, as she does wending from what amounts to a creepy tree this remarkable, bone-chilling dark fantasy.