Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.
The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.
The Wych Elm was entirely mesmerising, a standalone novel from Tana French with her acute eye for nuanced character and her beautiful use of language, telling an utterly compelling and genuinely immersive tale that will leave you melancholy.
Toby has never worried about anything, a happy go lucky guy, sure of his place in the world, sure of those around him and casually reliant on his ability to get himself out of hot water should he fall in. Then a vicious attack and a dying stalwart of his childhood changes everything…
The Wych Elm is a slow burning literary delight of a novel. Tana French explores themes of memory, identity and how we view ourselves compared to how others view us – and how we are changed by circumstance and event. The Ivy House, very much a character in its own right sets the scene as a horrifying discovery leaves Toby questioning all his memories of an idyllic childhood spent in the company of his cousins…and how well he really knows them at their heart.
The author weaves an intricate web of time, place and person- through Toby’s experiences, his recovery, his slow understanding of what is going on around him, she makes you feel every moment and it is haunting, fascinating reading.
This is not a novel for anyone who wants an easy pay off or a fast paced resolution- this is one where character is everything, you commit to these people, learn from them and about them, all through the dark glass of Toby’s skewed viewpoint. It pulls you along with it, revealing truths at its own pace, offering a family group dynamic that is subtle and authentic.
I lived it every step of the way. It is a long book that speeds past as if it were the blink of an eye, powerful and layered, intelligently designed and in it’s denouement incredibly sad.
The Wych Elm will stay with me as Tana French novels always do, that is her writing superpower. I’ll never forget Toby, Leon, Su and the rest and it’s one of those books that I’ll definitely revisit, unravelling missed moments and revelling in the poetic prose and immersive settings.