OR: Judas Tree

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #25:-

JUDAS TREE

Simon Clark

NEL pb, 423pp, £6.99

Simon Clark’s latest novel brings to mind the Shirley Jackson classic The Haunting of Hill House, as regards both style and content. Instead of Hill House we have Voros, a tiny and isolated Greek island with a population of oddballs and a chequered history. Instead of Eleanor we have Amelia Thomas, a successful career woman whose life has been derailed by a man pushing her off a bridge. Amelia is running away from the family who torment and take advantage of her, and into the arms of her estranged mother, the aristocratic Catherine, and the other inhabitants of the villa known as The Palms. Her arrival on Voros is the trigger for a series of events that can only end in tragedy.

For all the similarities Clark remains his own man and the meat that he places on the bones of the plot make this familiar material somehow seem fresh and shiny new. The story captures the interest right from the start and develops well, with a battery of quiet effects that gradually build to an assured climax, as the unique atmosphere of Voros and its influence on the island’s inhabitants is brought to chilling life on the page. So much of the book’s dramatic tension arises out of the interaction between the finely drawn characters and, like Jackson, Clark leaves elbow room for ambiguity. While the supernatural is rather more than hinted at what remains open to question is how Amelia’s confused mental state contributes to the proceedings. This novel marks a new departure for Clark, one relying on subtler effects than the rabid chainsaw chic that typified much of his earlier work. It should please his old fans and win him many new ones.

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