The Witch Elm
I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Tana French’s The Witch Elm. (I kinda thought there were going to be witches, to be honest.) I knew it was a crime/mystery novel, I knew my mom was reading it for her book club, and that was about it.
The story beings ominously: “I’ve always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person.” Well, I guess you don’t necessarily need to read this ominously — but it foreshadows that the luck of Toby (our protagonist) is going to turn.
Set in and around Dublin, Ireland, the story starts slow: we meet Toby, his buddies, his girlfriend. We get situated to his job (PR for an art gallery). We learn he’s well-liked, good looking, and easy going. And then, two thieves break into his apartment, beat him up, and leave him nearly dead. And that’s where our story begins.
There’s not much else I want to say about the plot — too much would spoil you — or the titular witch elm (really wych elm, a type of tree), but know this: it’s really, really good. It’s around 500 pages, but I read it all in a day. It’s spooky; I found myself wanting to flip to the end just to see what happens, and that everyone would be okay (Don’t worry, I resisted the impulse). The story also smartly deals with the impact of PTSD, family bonds, and the idea of “luck.”
French explained to Vulture that the seed of the book comes from the idea of luck and empathy: “Everybody has ways in which they’ve been lucky in life, and everybody also has ways in which they’ve definitely rolled snake eyes. But lately I’ve been thinking about, ‘Okay, what about somebody who’s been lucky in every way, all along, who’s always come out on top of the coin flip?’ Someone who is white, straight, male, from a well-off, happy family, loved, mentally healthy, physically healthy, good-looking, intelligent, who’s just been on the right side of all the coin flips? What would that do to his ability to empathize with other people’s experience of life? And what would that do to his ability to take on board the fact that other people’s very different experiences are, in fact, real? And then, what would happen if something happened to him that meant he was no longer on the right side of all the coin flips? How would that affect not only his experience of reality, but his perception of himself within reality?”
(Okay, I know that was a long quote, but I thought it’s really interesting as the underlying theme of the book!) A must-read for mystery lovers.
Get it here: https://amzn.to/2Rgq24P