Sally Flint

Book Review of Erin Kelly's The Skeleton Key


Erin Kelly’s The Skeleton Key is a thrilling read, offering an eerie blend of fantasy, mystery, and fairytale. The novel invites readers into Eleanor (Nell)’s complex, captivating, and, at times, frightening world. The protagonist’s life has been continually impacted by The Golden Bones, a children’s book written fifty years ago by her father, Frank.

Frank’s story The Golden Bones, inspired and illustrated by his wife Cora, wouldn’t exist without her. The reader is first introduced to Frank, his best friend Lal, and Cora in the book’s prologue. This introduction provides valuable context for the events to come, and interestingly, this prologue narrative thread is picked up again at the end of the story, providing another huge plot twist which I hadn’t seem coming at all!

The Golden Bones, as is often the case with fairytales, is chilling. It tells the story of Elinor (after whom Eleanor was later named), a woman whose bones have been scattered across England. The location of these bones presents a puzzle for readers to solve. Adding to the intrigue, Frank, Cora, and Lal visited these locations and buried clues to be discovered. This element transforms readers of the children’s story into ‘bone hunters,’ many obsessive in their pursuit. The narrative takes a dark turn when zealous puzzle solvers mistakenly believe that one of the bones mentioned in the story is a part of Nell’s body. This leads to chilling murder attempts and forces Nell into a life filled with fear, isolation, and resentment.

These actions cast a long shadow over Nell’s family, moulding their lives in unexpected and tumultuous ways. The 50th-anniversary reissue of the book brings it all back to the surface. This reissue, accompanied by a new app spearheaded by Nell’s brother, Dom, further complicates things. Dom happens to be married to Rose, the daughter of Lal and his wife Bridget, who live next door to the Churchers and whose lives are intricately linked with theirs. (It isn’t as complicated as it sounds!)

As the story unfolds, Frank, Nell’s father, is unmasked as a complex and deeply flawed character. The revelations triggered by the filming of a documentary unleash a series of unforeseen and harrowing events that leave readers on the edge of their seats, questioning their initial perceptions of the narrative.

Erin Kelly’s masterful storytelling weaves a mesmerising narrative that skilfully intertwines the complexities of family dynamics, the repercussions of vanity, the desire for fame, alcoholism, and the enduring impact of a haunting legacy. Kelly cleverly ensnares us in this page-turning thriller without us even realising it. The Skeleton Key takes readers on a haunting journey of a daughter tormented by her father’s legacy, immersing them in a world where past and present collide in a symphony of emotions and unforeseen circumstances. Nell’s relationship with Billie, the daughter of a good-for-nothing ex-boyfriend whom she loves as if she were her own, also plays a crucial role in the narrative.

In certain aspects, this book might be compared to Lisa Jewell’s The Family Upstairs, with its links to wealth, large houses, and unexplained histories. However, it carves out its own unique identity with its intricate plot twists and compelling mystery.

While the experience of listening to stories can sometimes differ from reading them, this book works brilliantly as an audiobook. It retains all the elements of a page-turner that you’d expect from the print version, keeping you hooked from beginning to end.


Book Club Questions on Erin Kelly's The Skeleton Key

  1.  Ø Nell makes certain decisions and keeps secrets for the sake of her own nephews, nieces, and Lal’s family towards the end of the book. Do you believe she was correct in her actions? 

    Ø Given all we know about Frank, why do you think Nell was insistent on him not being
    jailed for a crime he hadn’t committed

    Ø Who, in your opinion, is the most sympathetic character in the book, and why?

    Ø How do you feel about the book’s structure, starting and ending with a flashback of
    the journey’s inception?

    Ø Discuss the various representations of feminism that the story explores?

    Ø Do you believe the secret of what truly happened, leading to Frank’s imprisonment,
    will remain hidden, or will it eventually come to light?

    Ø How would you classify the genre of the book? Please explain your reasoning.

    Ø Compare and contrast the various parenting styles portrayed in the book. Which do you
    believe was the most effective, and why?

    Ø Had you anticipated Lal’s significance in the creation of the story, which is only
    revealed towards the end?

    Ø Spoiler alert – discuss why you think Frank took his own life.

    Ø What do you think will happen next to the characters in the book?

  2. Ø Discuss the character of Frank. Was there a moment in the story when you found it

Book Club questions on Erin Kelly The Skeleton Key (for if you haven't read the book)

Ø Nell seems to enjoy her life on a narrow boat with Billie. Is this a lifestyle you
could see yourself enjoying?

Ø Nell loves Billie as if she were her own daughter. Do you think you would find it easy to take a teenage child into your life and treat them as if they were your own?

Ø Bridget and Lal’s daughter had some additional learning needs and was susceptible to being extra sensitive when in an unusual or uncomfortable environment. Discuss how you think awareness of and responses to issues encompassed under the umbrella term of ‘mental health and learning issues’ have changed and developed in the last ten years.

Ø If you were in a difficult situation where you had to keep either your mother or
father out of jail, what would you do?

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