Rachel Hall's Reviews > The Burning Air

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly
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it was amazing

Underestimate this dark and extremely disturbing psychological thriller at your peril for its sinks its claws in and proves compelling, largely for the damaged narrators offering their individual perspectives and the sheer number of times that the author wrong-foots her readership. Punctuated by a series of unexpected revelations, the story grows steadily darker and demands the audiences attention, despite how implausible some of the supposed twists become. Sowing the seeds for the impending thriller element, dying matriarch Lydia MacBride, JP and recent MBE, leaves unspoken the extent of her "lapse of judgement", excused by her fierce loyalty and love for her children. Planning to destroy her diaries prior to her impending demise, she mourns her past actions, tentatively speculating on how much harm their discovery by her family would cost the cherished sanity and security of the MacBride clan. I guarantee Lydia's secret won't be any of the innumerable scenarios that readers contemplate.

Fast-forward one year and the depleted MacBride family reunite for what has become an annual familial institution, a Bonfire Night gathering at the secluded Far Barn in Devon, purportedly with the intention of scattering Lydia's ashes and attending the Tar Barrels festival. Turning to eldest daughter, Sophie, to portray their battle scars and deliver the narrative recounting the fallout from her mother's death as they converge on the barn, her anxiety is already raised. Father Rowan, long-respected as the headteacher of Saxby Cathedral school, the bastion of privileged education that his siblings have all graduated from, is a changed man. Now retired and in the thrall of loneliness, Rowan is no longer the routinely sober man he once was. Attempting to disguise a disintegrating marriage of her own, eldest daughter Sophie, with her own history of erratic behaviour, rushes to her father's side. Her own entente cordiale with unfaithful husband Will, father to her four children hangs by a delicate thread. Single mother and middle-child Tara seems happily contented with lover Matt and mixed-race son, Jake, by her side. As the sisters speculate on the first girlfriend that twenty-nine-year old baby of the family, Felix, is introducing them to, they are unprepared for the enigmatic Kerry, reluctant to be drawn into conversation and permeating a strange atmosphere among the tight knit MacBride bubble. Immediately feeling protective of their fragile younger brother with his facial disfigurement they are concerned at the beguiling beauty of the self-contained intruder. Clearly enamoured by Kerry, the sisters are suspicious about her potentially breaking Felix's heart. When Sophie returns to the barn after being coaxed into an evening out, leaving her newborn daughter in the care of Kerry, only to find no sign of their presence, the tension is palpable. It takes Sophie and Rowan stumbling across a blast from the past and encountering a surname that is forever etched on their hearts and minds to realise just what kind of a nightmare scenario they have fallen prey to.

Whilst the action is set over the weekend of Bonfire Night 2013 and a family reunion it then winds the clock back to 1996, introducing Darcy Kellaway and the point at which two families became entwined and young Darcy established an enmity and contempt for the inbred confidence of a privileged MacBride clan. Passing the baton of the narration through the hands of four very different voices, Erin Kelly delivers an exquisite illustration of a righting of an imagined wrong. Thought-provoking and horrifying in equal measure, the well constructed characters deliver a stunning performance of revenge in extremis. Much of Darcy's fierce hatred stems from an intensely close relationship with mentally unstable mother, Heather Kellaway, who ignites the initial flames of a long held loathing.

The Burning Air is a taut psychological thriller which simmers along and what begins as tit for tat retribution builds into something altogether more destructive. Whilst I did groan at the cliffhanger twist delivered at the halfway point, something that my own assumptions lured me into, it did prove a turning point in the novel. The Burning Air was looking like a four star read until halfway but what tipped it into five star territory was how Erin Kelly handled the bombshell discovery when the novel could have lost credibility, but instead she depicts an exhibition of a malicious vendetta and a promise to fulfil the dying wish of a delusional woman. But can a mother be held accountable for their adult offsprings actions anymore than a mother be culpable for the unforeseen repercussions of her interventions? Surely going down that road is the path to madness and one finding excuses for and justifications for every misdemeanour. It is hard to hoist either matriarch on their own petard, one in the grip of a delusional psychosis, her body under increasing physical strain from the effects of anorexia nervosa and her mind a prisoner to the condition, and the other with the best intentions. Two families, inextricably linked by one event having occurred seventeen-years previously shows how a pathological desire to avenge a mother's death can prove the destruction of both families.

This is my first read by Erin Kelly and it was not the jaw-dropping twist of halfway through that impressed me; rather the nurturing of an antipathy and loathing that proved the destruction of predator and prey, forcing the family to cross a border and begin a new chapter in their family history, not of their own violation but one that is forced upon them by an irrational contempt. Whether the MacBride family were an innocent party or worthy of their fate is for the reader to decide, but with the primal instinct of a mother being to close ranks and protect their own, it is hard to damn Lydia MacBride. Despite the unlikelihood of anyone exacting such a destructive retribution so successfully as evinced in The Burning Air, it doesn't make it any less compelling. A dark psychological thriller where the staggered revelations keep suspense at an optimum and the carefully orchestrated plan for retribution unfolds with the MacBride family uniting to mourn their emotional strongest member in the form of matriarch Lydia. For a story awash with firecrackers throughout, the secluded barn in winter setting adds an eerie backdrop for the revenge that has waited two generations. If ever there is a novel which is ripe for a sequel bringing readers up to date with the multi-generational family is is surely this gem? A truly recommended read.
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Quotes Rachel Liked

Erin Kelly
“A good mother loves fiercely but ultimately brings up her children to thrive without her. They must be the most important thing in her life, but if she is the most important thing in theirs, she has failed.”
Erin Kelly, The Burning Air


Reading Progress

October 1, 2016 – Shelved
January 17, 2017 – Started Reading
January 22, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Paromjit (new)

Paromjit What a complicated story! I have read Erin Kelly books but can't for the life of me remember them other than I enjoyed them. Wonderful review Rachel xx


Rachel Hall Ha ha.. probably my explanation Paromjit because it seemed simple when Erin Kelly was relaying the story.. which is why I will never make a good author! I waffle, smart authors don't! xx


message 3: by Paromjit (new)

Paromjit You are too hard on yourself Rachel.......much love xx


message 4: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Tomasso Great review Rachel. I don't, however, think this is one for me. xx


Rachel Hall Thank you Karin and Elaine xx


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