Broken Branches – Review

“Family curses don’t exist.”

At the start, we are introduced to Ian Perkins. A man brought back to live in his childhood home with his wife and young son due to tragedy. And from the very beginning, we see that something is very wrong.

Rachel and Ian aren’t really speaking and seem to live two very different lives under the same roof.

“All the books offered exercises that they should do as a couple. And unfortunately for Ian, only one half of the couple was trying.”

Most of the book is written from Ian’s perspective. In his mind, solving the problem of the family curse is the solution to his marriage crisis. The one glimmer of hope in his life, is his son Harry, whom he showers with love and affection.

We weave our way through Ian’s current struggles with piecing together his families history, and the history of the family itself. The narration jumping back and forth with each chapter. The writing is seamless and the transitions feel natural, building up the mystery of the curse.

As with any good mystery, with each puzzle piece revealed, more questions arise, until we reach the end and see the result in it’s entirety.

For me, this book was more an exploration of grief and how our minds will work tirelessly to not just make sense of tragedy, but to also avoid the intense feelings associated with grief.

Tragedy follows the Perkins family through the generations. That much is obvious from very early on in the book. But many of the symptoms of a ‘curse’ remind me a lot of mental illness, at least the way they’re presented in this book.

Ian’s mother is the most notable example. His memories of her throughout his childhood show a very marked deterioration on her sense of reality. Again, is this due to the curse, or simply one woman’s attempt to make sense of the tragedy that takes place in her life?

And this is where reviewing this book is a little tricky. I’m not entirely sure if this book was meant to be strictly a horror novel, or if it was meant for something more. As a horror novel, I wasn’t floored by the suspense, and didn’t feel the shock and awe that I should have. The twists, as a horror novel, were predictable and anticlimactic.

On the other hand, if this is a novel meant to use the curse as a metaphor for mental illness, than it is very well executed. There are many, many fascinating ideas on how one event can change the course of our lives, even leading to delusions or more. In this case, the twists are an excellent way to showcase how one person’s perspective can become so powerful, that nothing can tear it away.

Regardless of the the intent, there is a lot of symbolism in the book to highlight how we use events in the past to make sense of our present. We attribute meaning to places and objects that perhaps give these things more power over us than they should.

Ian’s childhood was not very stable or happy. His life notably improved when he left the confines of the cottage and lived his own life. In fact, there are several other family members who experience the same thing. It is only when life forces them back to the cottage that life takes a turn for the worse. Not just for Ian, but for family in the past.

The question remains at the end, is the cottage cursed? For Ian, proving that there is a curse is a vindication of sorts. If there is a curse, he removes the blame and responsibility he feels for his role in the family’s many tragedies. It absolves him. The truth becomes less about if a curse exists, and more about why a curse needs to exist.

The haunting part for me is how we, as humans, can make our own realities. This book had a bit of a “Black Mirror” feel to it, for me, in this sense. I think it is in our nature to find a way to forgive ourselves, especially when our actions (or inactions) lead to tragedy.

Build on that the nature of grief. How it is all-encompassing. It can eat away at us and change who we are fundamentally as people. In the same way that Miss Havisham simply froze her entire existence to the moment her heart was broken, Ian throws himself relentlessly into the pursuit of his family’s history. The past becomes his reality. He rationalizes, justifies, makes excuses and flat out ignores everything that doesn’t fit in his narrative.

In that sense, this book is chilling, haunting and fascinating. This is a book that while easy to read, leaves you with questions. It’s perfect for a book club or reading group, in my opinion.

Thank you very much to Hideaway Falls for the opportunity to read and review this book!

4 thoughts on “Broken Branches – Review

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