25 July 2019

Review: THE WYCH ELM, Tana French

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 30, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0735224641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0735224643
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)


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 book from a novelist who takes crime writing and turns it inside out, The Wych Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, if we no longer know who we are.

My take

An enthralling and very complex book.

Toby didn't really want to return to the Ivy House and he wasn't really sure why. After he was attacked at home and beaten almost to death, his memory had great holes. But the family thought that going to stay at the Ivy House would help in his recuperation and also solve the problem of someone being there to look after Hugo.

The discovery of the skull hidden in the wych elm changes all that and becomes a pivotal point in the novel. How recent is the skull? The elm has been there about 200 years. But then the identity of the skull is discovered and the question becomes one of who put it there. Toby realises it must be someone he knows and he is not even sure it isn't himself.

There is no getting away from the fact that this is a long book. It is made to feel longer by the fact that it seems to take so long to get wherever it is going,  and for much of the time the reader is not sure what the outcome will be.  You are not really sure of how much detail you need to hang onto. And some of the main characters are simply unlikeable. I even felt ambivalent about Toby himself. I kept thinking about how unobservant and self-absorbed he must have been when he was younger. And then, we are nearly at the end when something quite awful and unpredictable happens.

My rating: 4.5

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