Publication: 21st February 2019 – Viking
‘For me it all goes back to that night, the dark corroded hinge between before and after, the slipped-in sheet of trick glass that tints everything on one side in its own murky colours and leaves everything on the other luminous and untouchable.’
One night changes everything for Toby. He’s always led a charmed life – until a brutal attack leaves him damaged and traumatised, unsure even of the person he used to be. He seeks refuge at his family’s ancestral home, the Ivy House, filled with memories of wild-strawberry summers and teenage parties with his cousins.
But not long after Toby’s arrival, a discovery is made: a skull, tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden.
As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself.
A spellbinding standalone from a literary writer who turns the crime genre inside out, The Wych Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, if we no longer know who we are.
THE WYCH ELM was quite an intense read for me. There is not a lot of action and it’s more of a character study mixed with a murder. The protagonist of the novel is Toby. He is the typical young man who leads an easy and good life. Hanging out with the popular crowd, good at school, a fantastic job and women who love him. Everything changes one night when Toby is brutally assaulted in his own home by burglars. He suffers from physical injuries, mood swings, and memory loss and he moves to the family home, Ivy House, to recover and to take care of his dying uncle, Hugo.
Between Sunday lunches with the family and helping Hugo with his genealogy job, Toby starts to recover and things seem to go back to normal, even though there is always some kind of tension lurking through the pages that kept my interest high. The suspense grows when a body is found inside the ancient wych elm by the garden. Who is it? And how long has it been there?
I do love unreliable characters in novels and Toby made me guess everything I read. Because of his head injury and memory loss, Toby doesn’t remember things from his past or he remembers them incorrectly. He asks for the help of his cousins Susanna and Leon, but you know right away that those are characters that you can’t trust. I never knew what was real and what was not so that I was on the edge of my seat until the end.
Although sometimes the pace is a bit too slow, the author knows how to keep the reader’s interest with a cast of multi-layered, irritating, and not very likable characters, a captivating and intricate plot, and a sinister and claustrophobic atmosphere that made me turn page after page.
THE WYCH ELM is my first attempt to Tana French’s novels, but I really liked her prose and her characterization, so it won’t be my last!