The Witch Elm by Tana French
Penguin Random House: 10/9/18
eBook review copy; 528 pages
The Witch Elm by Tana French is a very highly recommended crime
novel of privilege, healing after a trauma, family, and, incidentally, a
Toby Hennessy knows he is an attractive, lucky guy - things just seem to
always work out for him or he can charm his way out of the problem.
After a night out with his friends, he awakens to find two burglars in
his home. They don't run when Toby confronts them, instead they beat him
senseless and leave him for dead. Toby would have died too, but with
his luck he is found and taken to the hospital just in the nick of time.
Now, as Toby is recovering, he is beginning to understand that this
crime has changed his life drastically. Physically, he has a bad arm and
leg, a droopy eye, and may be subject to seizures and the trauma has
left him unable to remember events and words; he can't work and has
difficulty sleeping or relaxing in his home.
At first Toby bulks at his cousin's suggestion that he goes to stay at
the Ivy House with his Uncle Hugo, who is in the last stages of brain
cancer and needs someone to look after him, but then he acquiesces and
he and his girlfriend Melissa move in. It seems that staying there
helping Hugo may be helping Toby slowly recover. But when a skull
is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden, it looks like there
is now going to be a murder investigation along with the investigation
into his attackers.
The Witch Elm is an excellent novel. The writing is impeccable.
The plot, along with multiple subplots, is perfectly presented and
arranged, with an insight and astuteness for detail, character
development, a sense of place, and the advancement of the action. The
character development is detailed, intricate, and manages to capture the
strengths and flaws of human nature as a matter of course. This is
truly a character-driven novel, with Toby the focus, but all the
characters have an essential depth and complexity to them.
Admittedly, Toby can be kind of a privileged jerk. He never really
thought about the bad side of human nature before because he has always
been lucky or able to charm his way through problems. What might turn
out bad for others never has been that way for Toby until now - and it
is a dramatic wake-up call for him. Now he is open to judgement on his
slurred speech, awkward gait, loss of memory, and altered facial
structure. A large part of the novel is wondering if it is possible for
Toby to recover from his trauma.
Fans of French's Dublin Murder Squad novels may need to set aside their expectations and enjoy The Witch Elm as a marvelous stand-alone novel from an admirable writer.
My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.