Book: The Poison Garden
Author: Alex Marwood
Publication Info: 2020, Penguin Books
Genres: Suspense/Thriller, Cult, Psychological Thriller/Suspense, Fiction
My Rating: 3 stars
Shocking, tense and sharply written, The Poison Garden is the gripping new novel from the international bestseller and Edgar award-winning Alex Marwood.
Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.
Now 22, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone – and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.
Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago.
And that you can’t walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you…
This is a psychological thriller about a secretive and mysterious cult, The Ark, set in Northern Wales and southern England. The story begins with a police officer finding a large amount of deceased people on an estate; there are only a few survivors. The book switches between an adult survivor, Romy (who is pregnant), Somer (her mother), and Sarah (an aunt who will be tasked with attending to her after she is released from care after surviving the mass deaths). Two others, minors, survive and are shipped off to live with the Aunt, who is grappling with the death of a sister she never really knew and the newfound responsibility of taking care of mysterious and odd cult-surviving children.
Essentially, the original mother was kicked out as a young pregnant single mother by her domineering hyper-religious parents (who were implied to be cult-like in religion) and found a new home via a predatory cult in northern wales. The leader is a charismatic and manipulative man + his American wife who grooms members. They all are assigned work, roles, etc and every now and then women are impregnated by the leader.
This is nothing like a heartwarming Kimmy Schmidt type story. It is really, really weird, and there is a lot of building up to….
SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT
The survivors are manipulated BACK INTO THE CULT after they spent 300-something pages describing how crappy and abusive it was. Romy and Somer have brief moments of awareness but that seems to matter little — at the same time, even though I wish it didn’t end this way, I actually appreciate the ending. I KNOW, contradictory. Why? Because it is realistic in the psychological aspect: they were born and bred quite literally into the cult, and leaving simply wasn’t an option. I appreciate that, but don’t understand why Sarah, the “regular adult,” was manipulated into it so easily?
Okay for fans of psychological weirdness. Warning: contains rape, abuse, murder, emotional/physical harm, drugs, “bad words” and abandonment / being kicked out due to pregnancy, and lots of death.