Sunday, 25 April 2010

The boys in the trees by Mary Swan

This weeks NTTVBG hosted on dovegreyreader is The boys in the Trees by Mary Swan. This is still being discussed but the general feeling towards this book is not positive.

The book starts in 19th century England where a young boy climbs a tree to crave his name and to also vow that he will leave his terrible home and abusive father as soon as he possibly can.

We then see this boy 'William Heath' as he and his wife flee to Canada after the death of their three children who have died from diphtheria. William and his wife then have two daughters and settle in the fictional town of Emden, Ontario. Here they seem to find real happiness, they have a house and the youngest daughter enjoys her schooling, William teaches Sunday school and has a good job as a book keeper. But when William is accused of dodgy bookkeeping and is arrested, this causes him to commit an unspeakable crime and then the story follows the residents of the town of Emden as they try to come to terms with what as happened and to ask themselves 'did I miss the signs?'

This is a well written book, the narrative is clear and to the point and creates a dark and Gothic atmosphere. My only criticism here would be that it changes from narrator to narrator every single chapter, so I had to start every chapter trying to work out who was narrating which was a little frustrating.

The main reason people commenting on dovegreyreader's blog didn't like this is because so many parts of the story is left unsaid. We do not get an insight into why William committed the crimes he did or why the family tended to keep very much to themselves, we don't know exactly why they left England for Canada or really why they then suddenly left Toronto where they had originally settled. This can make for quite a frustrating read but I personally didn't mind this.

A lot of the chapters were spoken from the view points of various residents from the town who witnessed the aftermath of Williams crimes, for this reason I think the crimes or why they were committed were not as important as the ripples they caused. How did a major crime effect the local residents and should they have seen the signs? The locals did not know very much about William and his family or anything about his background so therefore neither do we. Perhaps we as readers also feel the same frustration that the towns people themselves feel?

On the whole I did like this book, it was a real treat to read through but I was expecting a dramatic ending or at least a revelation which did not come. Although we had limited information on William, we also had limited information on the residents themselves and I got the impression they were also leaving out vital narrative which would have made this a less frustrating read.

Verdict 3/5 (would really like to give it 31/2 stars)

Posted by Jess


  1. This sounds intriguing.

    I wonder whether or not you would recommend the novel. I've read books before the switch narrators and yes, it can be confusing, but often is worth it.

    All that being said, I've read other novels which skip large chunks of story and it is ceaselessly frustrating. I don't think that I'd want to go through that with another book.

    I really liked the review. Thorough without spoilers.

  2. Hi becki, thanks for your comment.

    Yes I would recoomend it as the writing itself was really good. Out of everyone who read this for the book group only a few did really like it (I was one of them) but this book has won a couple of awards so I wonder if they were in the minority

  3. I actually love stories told from multiple points of view, but they have to be done really well to do. The 19th century setting and the Gothic atmsphere also really appeal to me, so I'll probably pick this up sometime.