Erin Kelly

Stone Mothers

"'...Rendell herself would have given this novel her seal of approval...'"


'The Victorians used to call their mental hospitals stone mothers,' I say. 'They thought the design of the building could literally nurse the sick back to health.'

Marianne grew up in the shadow of the old asylum, a place that still haunts her dreams. She was seventeen when she fled the town, her family, her boyfriend Jesse and the body they buried. Now, forced to return, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving, is threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she's built; the husband and daughter who must never know.

Even if it means turning to her worst enemy...

But Marianne may not know the whole story - and she isn't the only one with secrets they'd kill to keep.

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Whenever we meet, Erin and I have had several conversations about our mutual admiration for Ruth Rendell, especially her Vine books. In ‘Stone Mothers’ you can feel that influence seeping into Kelly’s story, although the writing is Kelly’s own. The crumbling, spooky monument that is Nazareth Asylum is something that would not look out of place on the Rendell/Vine landscape. If anything, Nazareth is more a character in the book, a looming, haunting presence that affects all three of the main protagonists in ‘Stone Mothers’. All are running away from an event that brought Marianne, Jesse and Helen together, ending in a night of madness – fitting in a place where people have been held, some against their will for reasons that today we would believe were inhumane. Kelly is marvellous at making those populating her novel fully rounded and three-dimensional. She delivers them in a black and white scenario, but as Kelly’s story develops, we realise there is a lot of grey and that those judged harshly are maybe not as bad as first thought as their personal demons are unveiled and faced head on. Helen in particular, where this story is concerned. Nothing and nobody are cut and dried here. Each one shifts due to their circumstances and changes their skin like a chameleon, so you are never quite sure you can trust what you see at face value. To my mind, Helen was the most developed and intriguing. A member of The House of Lords, her introduction shows her as reticent to engage, hardened. By the end I wondered if she too, despite her iron exterior, (there are similarities to Mrs. T!), if Helen is not also worn away by this secret that hangs round her neck like the proverbial albatross. I felt her actions toward the end of the novel could be seen as noble, but then again, were they for her own benefit? Again, we have that mist of grey… Erin takes us on a journey, through the present, back to 1987 and then further to 1958. As with an onion, Kelly peels back each delicate layer upon layer to expose the fibrous root of how yesteryear can still have ramifications on the present. Detailing traumatic scenes inside Nazareth, it is all quite horrifying and you can only be thankful that we have come so far forward with understanding – although we still have some way to go – mental health issues. I am sure, if she had been alive today that Rendell herself would have given this novel her seal of approval and be pleased that the psychological novel she made her own, is in the safe hands of Erin Kelly.

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