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The Witch Elm: A Novel Paperback – July 30, 2019
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From the Publisher
—Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review
“Tana French is at her suspenseful best in The Witch Elm . . . Tana French’s best and most intricately nuanced novel yet . . . She is in a class by herself as a superb psychological novelist . . . French’s heretofore finest novel . . . Get ready for the whiplash brought on by its final twists and turns.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Like all of her novels, it becomes an incisive psychological portrait embedded in a mesmerizing murder mystery. [French] could make a Target run feel tense and revelatory.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Like all of French’s novels, The Witch Elm can be swooningly evocative . . . even if Toby isn’t on the Dublin Murder Squad, the events in The Witch Elm spur his great, transformative upheaval. The discovery they force on him revolves around one question: Whose story is this? By the time French is done retooling the mystery form—it seems there’s nothing she can’t make it do, no purpose she can’t make it serve—the answer is clear: hers and hers alone.”
—Laura Miller, Slate
“Ms. French’s new standalone is a stunner. Unapologetically atmospheric, the book is thought-provoking and a pleasure to read at the sentence level. Her suspense and crime elements are done exceptionally well and with great originality.”
“Head-spinning. . . French has spun an engrossing meditation on memory, identity, and family. A master of psychological complexity, she toys with the minds of her characters and readers both.”
“The Witch Elm, which follows a privileged man whose life gets derailed, is a timely window into what happens when men lose their precious power . . . French’s masterful character study is absolutely riveting and timely.”
“Detail-rich sequences lead to psychological insights and unexpected revelations.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“The literary world’s favorite mystery writer.”
“Since bursting onto the mystery scene with her genre-bending 2007 debut In the Woods, Tana French has cemented her reputation as a literary novelist who happens to write about murder.”
“Tana French—she of the lusciously complex sentences, she of the dense and eerie atmospheres—is one of the greatest crime novelists writing today. . . . The Witch Elm is a rich, immersive, and spine-chilling book, because Tana French is great at what she does and she knows how to tell a story. But it’s also a scathing and insightful deconstruction of social privilege, coming from a master of the form at the height of her powers.”
“A crime thriller at the top of its game.”
“Tana French’s new novel is an intriguing blend of whodunit and ‘who am I’ . . . a high priestess of tense, twisty plots . . . the mystery’s resolution is astonishing.”
—O, Oprah Magazine
“Spooky. . . . one of the premier voices in contemporary crime fiction . . . The final revelations in Witch are startling . . . a whodunit far more memorable for the why than the who.”
“French’s alluring storytelling keeps you hooked.”
“French burrows deeply into her victim’s psyche, plucking out his thoughts and presenting them with such elegantly worded descriptions one may think the author has nestled herself in an armchair squarely in Toby’s frontal cortex . . . This one is worth two readings: the first with the constant tightening of the chest that accompanies all of French’s work, the second after the reader can breathe again.”
—The Associated Press
“Scratch a bit beneath the surface of The Witch Elm, then, and you’ll find a book that captures the tensions of our current era, which is defined both by identity politics and the backlash against them. Through Toby, the novel offers powerful insight into how luck—which is, often enough, another way of saying privilege—can blind people to the suffering of others, with disastrous consequences.”
“A thrilling novel about privilege, family lore, and perception.”
“The crime writer for people who think they don’t like genre fiction. Her prose is enveloping and intricate, but casually masks its cleverness. She sucks you in with mystery, then unfurls a masterfully rendered, super specific slice of Irish society.”
“Tana French is at the cutting edge of crime fiction, and The Witch Elm pushes its boundaries further.”
—The New Republic
“A spellbinding stand-alone novel carefully crafted in her unique, darkly elegant prose style.”
“Prose so smooth you forget about it and just sink right in.”
“Tana French’s The Witch Elm is a chilling mystery about the unreliability of memory.”
“You savor the details—the delicious portrayal of crisp fall weather in Ireland—as you race through the pages. . . . A tick-tocking mystery and a fascinating portrayal of memory as a cracked mirror, through which the past can’t quite be seen clearly.”
“French spins a compelling, twisty plot and maintains an atmosphere of foreboding and paranoia that runs throughout the book . . . games within games as each tries to deflect blame from themselves and onto someone else . . . [but] French has still created a compelling novel of suspense, in which a world that no longer makes sense is the scariest thing of all.”
“An amazing read from an iconic thriller writer.”
“Fans of [Tana French’s] previous Dublin Murder Squad books will find themselves happily tangled up in her new novel, and ultimately delighted by the deep psychological dive she leads them on.”
“Tana French, having tailored psychological suspense to her own voice, demonstrates anew that the solution never fits neatly into the crime-solving order that detective novels demand.”
“Edgar-winner French is at her suspenseful best in this standalone, in which an Irishman, who’s always considered himself a lucky person, has to reassess his past in the light of a gruesome find on the grounds of his family’s ancestral home.”
“The story is compelling, and French is deft in unraveling this book’s puzzles . . . Psychologically intense.”
“French’s slow-burning, character-driven examination of male privilege is timely, sharp, and meticulously crafted. Recommended for her legions of fans, as well as any readers of literary crime fiction.”
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 30, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0735224641
- ISBN-13 : 978-0735224643
- Item Weight : 15 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.4 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #19,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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If you’re still here, welcome to my reading room…
POV: First person, which imparts an intimacy that is needed by a tale such as this. Getting inside Toby’s head to learn how he experiences, and attempts to recover from, his fall is one of the major themes in this character-driven story.
BLUSH FACTOR: To put it gently, unless your church group differs greatly from mine, you will NOT be reading this aloud to them. In fact, you’re more likely to disavow any knowledge of this book, even if you did read it in bed and keep it hidden from view by visitors.
ADVENTURE: Yes, at least for me, as I’m a Yank. For people in the UK, I have no idea.
THE WRITING: Friendly, intimate, chatty. Good flow and, dare I say, sway. Almost feel like it’s a waltz. Mind you, when I was younger I abhorred think books, which, at 528 pages or thereabouts, I would have run the other way to find a quicker read. I was the sort who decried the loss of trees for such books. Now, though, I’ve come to appreciate what additional pages really means – character development, asides that afford us time to view how the other half lives. Or, permit us to develop a one-on-one relationship with the narrator to appreciate how they can draw us in with a gentle tug here and there.
In other words, if you’re looking for a quick read, this is liable to disappoint. It also, however, might draw you in to show you the value of what I stated above.
GRAMMAR, EDITING & SUCH: This is a first-rate production by a premier writer. Bear in mind, though, this is written by a writer in the UK, so some terms might need a little interpretation to fully appreciate their meaning.
CHARACTER: Watching how the writer brings Toby from a full, happy, lucky man downwards is engrossing.
This excerpt comes from quite early in the story, so is free of what I consider spoilers, plus free of words that Amazon does not permit in reviews. This glimpse, however brief, will show a side of Toby that may dispel any prejudices in his favor. If that could annoy you, please pass on reading the excerpt.
‘…hadn’t there been some coke left over from that Paddy’s Day party? But surely if they had been planning to give me hassle over that, they would have mentioned it by now— “How about your car?” Martin asked.
“Oh,” I said. My car hadn’t even occurred to me. “Yeah. It’s a BMW coupe—I mean, it’s a few years old, but it’s probably still worth— Did they take it?”
“They did, yeah,” Martin said. “Sorry. We’ve been keeping a lookout for it, but no joy yet.”
“The insurance’ll sort you out, no problem,” Flashy Suit told me comfortingly. “We’ll give you a copy of the report.”
“Where were the keys?” Martin asked.
“In the living room. On the, the”—word gone again—“the sideboard.”
He blew air out of the side of his mouth. “In full view of the windows, man. Ever leave the curtains open?”
Martin grimaced. “You’ll know better next time, wha’? Did you have them open last Friday evening?”
“I don’t—” Getting home, going to bed, everything in between, it was all blank, a black hole big enough that I didn’t even want to get near it—“I don’t remember.”
“Did you have the car out that day?”
It took me a moment, but: “No. I left it at home.” I had figured that, whatever happened with Richard, I was going to want a few pints.
“In the car park in front of the building.”
“Do you drive it most days?”
“Not really. Mostly I walk to work, if the weather’s OK, save the hassle of parking in town? But if it’s raining or, or I’m running late, then yeah, I drive. And if I go somewhere at the weekend. Maybe two days a week? Three?”
“When was the last time you had it out?”
“I guess—” I knew I had stayed home for a few days before that night, couldn’t remember exactly how long— “The beginning of that week? Monday?”
Martin lifted an eyebrow, checking: You positive? “Monday?”
“Maybe. I don’t remember. Maybe it was over the weekend.” I got where he was going with this. The car park was open to the road, no gate. Martin thought someone had scoped out my car, clocked me getting into it, watched the windows till he identified my apartment, and then come looking for the keys. In spite of the element of creepiness—me sprawled contentedly on my sofa eating crisps and watching TV, eyes at the dark crack between the curtains—I liked that theory, an awful lot better than I liked my Gouger one. Car thieves weren’t personal, and they were hardly likely to come back.
“Anything else valuable?” Martin asked.
“My laptop. My Xbox. I think that’s it. Did they—”
“Yeah,” Flashy Suit said. “Your telly, too. That’s the standard stuff: easy to sell for a few bob. We’ll keep the serial numbers on file, if you’ve
French, Tana. The Witch Elm: A Novel (pp. 57-59). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
As other reviewers have stated, the story slows a bit during the development stage, but that I believe was an artistic decision and has nothing to do with why I’m taking a star away. Oh, and although there is some hint of sex in the romantic aspects of the story, there is nothing graphic, from my viewpoint. In fact, I might have preferred to see some. So, why four stars? The profanities and other slang are so numerous. Mind you, I agree with the decision to include rough street talk to set the tone. However, in my thinking, less can be more. Mostly though, I just want to ensure readers wishing to avoid such talk are properly alerted.
Four stars out of five. Still, four stars is certainly a strong recommendation to read.
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On an ordinary evening, two men burgle Toby's apartment and beat him nearly to death. Since he is the narrator and spends the first third of this book in the hospital, there is very little action and is largely written as though he were not on a morphine drip and completely aware. Even drugs do not keep Toby from being annoyed. He's in pain, hates the doctors, wishes his mother would leave him alone and so on.
Released from the hospital, Toby has lasting effects from the beating, some physical, some psychological. He doesn't want to do anything but mope around while resenting anyone who tries to help. He's such an unlikable guy it's difficult to feel sorry for him. Just when I was ready to give up on this book, his family convinces Toby to move in with his bachelor uncle, Hugo. Hugo is terminally ill and can't be alone and since Toby isn't doing anything anyway, he agrees.
Both Melissa and Toby move in with Hugo, who is failing but whose attitude is the opposite of his nephew, gentle and considerate. Melissa goes to work and Hugo spends his days tracing people's ancestry online. Toby takes too many drugs and wanders around feeling sorry for himself. Each Saturday the extended family visits The Ivy, Hugo's home. They bring food. There are parents, cousins, children and they drink and talk and talk and talk. These conversations are not much different from most family get togethers. Lots of resentments pop up, eyeballs roll, parents yell at the children. Just when it appeared that nothing was every going to happen again in this book, Eureka!
At one of these Saturday free for alls, Hugo shoos the children outside to go on a hunt for buried treasure and one of them discovers a human skull. Half the family is for tossing it over the fence but Hugo insists they call the authorities. There is much discussion among the family members about whether the skull is ancient or contemporary and so on and, of course, they have no idea.
When the identity of the deceased is discovered to be contemporary, the police become involved and the hunt is on. The police are called and to a man they are menacing and suspicious while being verbally obsequious. With nothing else to do, really, Toby sets out to be a detective. He plies his cousins with alcohol and engages them in verbal jousts and asks what he thinks are brilliant questions in hopes of gaining some clues as to what they know. Toby has become paranoid and afraid after his beating so poking his nose into deep waters would not seem to be logical but forward he rushes, drunk and stoned. Melissa is disgusted and moves out. Toby whines.
The characters, with the exception of Melissa and Hugo, are not sympathetic and they talk, talk, talk and Toby complains for hundreds of pages. This might have been a better book if Toby himself had been the victim as the suspect pool would have been wide. From the point where Toby moves in with Hugo, this book is like a play. All the action takes place at The Ivy, home of the Witch Elm of the title. Toby doesn't leave, Hugo doesn't leave. Melissa leaves and comes back and the rest of the cast wanders in and out, airing complaints. The last half of the book is nearly all dialogue. It's a trial to read a book where the narrator is a a self-absorbed brat who stays stoned and is all about me! me! Rarely do I dislike a book so much that I considered chucking it half way through.