The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

I went to this book’s launch party a couple of weeks ago and it was a lot of fun. It was at the publisher’s office near Bond Street, and they had the usual wine, nibbles and talk by the author, but they also had a tarot reader which added an extra dimension to the event. 

First of all: the book itself. The story follows Martha, a seventeen-year-old girl who has recently had an accident and lost the sight in one of her eyes. Ever since she woke up in the hospital, she’s been able to feel people’s emotions and learn their life stories simply by touching their clothes. This might sound like a gift, but for Martha it’s made the world a living nightmare. She can’t turn the ability on and off at will, so going outside is terrifying. Every time someone brushes against her it’s like they’re rubbing off on her, causing sensory overload in all public situations.

And of course no one would believe her if she told them. She’d sound mad, so she keeps her secret to herself and writes letters to her grandmother, the only one who might understand. But she never receives a reply, so one day Martha decides to take herself off to the remote Norwegian town where her grandmother lives, to see if she can find out what’s happened to her and why she’s like this.

When she arrives, something is wrong. Her grandmother is dead, but no one had told her; and living in her cabin is a strange boy Martha’s age. Over the next few days she discovers not only the secrets of the cabin and her grandmother, but also finds out more about herself and her newfound abilities.

I’m not a big one for fantasy stories really, because it’s rare that I can lose myself in something that doesn’t relate strongly to the real world. This book was like that: whilst I could tell the storyline was enjoyable, it was just a little too far from believeable to let me fully relate to it. However I did think there were some interesting metaphors for mental illness in there. At the beginning of the book, when Martha is heading to Norway and having to weave her way through crowds, sit next to people on planes and generally interact with others, it reminded me a lot of how it feels to have OCD: when you’re desperate for nobody to touch you, when you’d do anything to stop yourself feeling the things you don’t want to feel. Incidentally if you’re looking for an excellent novel about living with OCD, I recommend Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne.

The Twisted Tree‘s author is very into Norse mythology, which is woven through the storyline. Some of the parallels are obvious, some not so much; the Norns pop up quite often, and Hel and Odin. If you’re familiar with Norse myths you’ll probably enjoy seeing bits of them appearing throughout this book, and if you haven’t yet done so I’d also recommend that you check out Neil Gaiman’s Norse Myths book if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s a retelling of several Norse myths in a fun, easy-to-read style.

One final recommendation: if you read The Twisted Tree and enjoy it, I think you’ll also like The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert.


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