Last year I read A Tiny Feeling of Fear, the third novel by Yorkshire-based author M. Jonathan Lee, and it knocked me for six. Based heavily on Lee’s own life, the book deals with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in such an honest and personal way that it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. And while his latest novel, Broken Branches, is a psychological thriller rather than a gritty biographical novel, it is just as gripping and emotionally involving as its predecessor.
Following the suicide of his older brother, Ian Perkins has moved back to his childhood home, Cobweb Cottage, with his wife and son. The creepy farmhouse is made all the more ominous by the brooding presence of a large tree which Ian has always been afraid of. As a kid it caused him sleepless nights as its branches would scratch against his window. Now, years later, Ian attributes the tree to a series of tragedies that have befallen the Perkins family over the years.
Ian begins to research his family history, but as his obsession grows he neglects his job and his loved ones, particularly his wife Rachel, who becomes increasingly detached and resentful towards her husband. At the same time, Cobweb Cottage becomes more sinister as Ian starts hearing and seeing things. Will Ian be able to save his marriage and his sanity by proving that the tree’s curse is real?
Broken Branches is oppressively dark, the only light coming in the scenes featuring his beloved son Harry and in nostalgic flashbacks of happier times, but it is always riveting thanks to Lee’s vivid writing and his knack for mind-bending plot twists. Some may find the intricate story hard to follow at times, as it covers numerous generations of the Perkins family and flits back in time repeatedly, but this is part of the book’s appeal for me as it helps to convey Ian’s confused and desperate state. And anyway, if you have to go back and re-read a few pages because you’ve lost the thread, so what? As with all of Lee’s novels, the payoff at the end is worth it, trust me.
Masterfully ambiguous as to what is real and what is imagined, Broken Branches reminded me of The Shining and Shutter Island at times. Yet another brilliant book from this gifted writer; I can’t wait to see what M. Jonathan Lee comes up with next.