The Witch Elm by Tana French, 4 Stars

The reason I picked up The Witch Elm by Tana French is…well, Tana French. She’s an amazing writer. And not all writers have the ability to write super thick and meaty books that are still page-turners from cover to cover. With a novel that is over 500 pages of smallish-print I’d expect a good portion of that to be blah. So not the case!

I do have to admit though that picking up a Tana French book is a commitment. Even for a speedy reader like me. I’m used to breezing through a suspense novel in an afternoon. A French novel takes at least a couple of days, a week if I have other stuff going on. Still, I saw The Witch Elm on a couple lists of books to read this fall and I just couldn’t resist.

I mean, in a NY Times Review, the man, Stephen King, said, “The bottom line is this: “The Witch Elm” is what another novelist, Stewart O’Nan, likes to call “a heapin’ helping.” The prose, as fine as it is, as dense as it is, as obsessive as it is, remains in service to the story. This is good work by a good writer.”

It certainly isn’t about a woman in trouble either, but I don’t like to put myself inside a box! Equal treatment for men in trouble!

From the Publisher:

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.

My Review:

When I pick up a thick volume of a book, it makes me cry a little inside. Because I know that the time spent reading this one will be time not spent reading a couple other books. And I hope it’s the right choice. Well, I’m happy to say that when it comes to Tana French’s new stand-alone novel, The Witch Elm, it was the right choice!

For those not familiar, Tana French is the author of the popular Dublin Crime series. And that series is so different from other series I’ve read. Sure, it features a main narrator who is a detective. But the books are just the most opposite thing from the formulaic books you get from a lot of series writers. She has a history in theater and I wonder if that might be the distinction in her writing. Everything–characters, setting, plot-are so richly drawn in her books that they are really unlike other stories I’ve read.

The Witch Elm, is a bit of a departure as it is a stand-alone instead of part of the series. And some of her fans were not as excited. But I loved this one. I will agree with King’s assessment (review link above), that too much was given away in the flap of the book.  Because the story gets going slowly, then really starts going about 150 pages in. And I think there were plenty of other details to draw the reader in without knowing too much about what was to come.

Toby is a very likeable character. He’s a guy’s guy. But still in control when it comes to the ladies. And the impression I get of his long-term girlfriend Melissa is that she is somewhat of a surprise to him. An ethereal, chill beauty who is happy to take care of others and kind of flit through life. And there’s no drama for the most part with their relationship, but he does seem to care deeply for her.

The book starts to take off after a long week at work. Toby returns home from a night with the lads at the bar blowing off steam and is robbed and attacked in the middle of the night. He almost dies, his injuries are bad. And while all of this is going on, he learns his dear Uncle Hugo, who he spent many summers with during his childhood at the family estate is dying of cancer.

So he returns to the family estate to nurse himself and his uncles, hoping fond memories from his childhood will bring him back to the person he was before the attack. And from this point, drama ensues. And it turns out, maybe not all of Toby’s memories of his childhood are quite accurate.

I loved this book, but there were a couple of things that stood out to me..probably at least a couple of plot points that didn’t develop into anything and I really wanted to understand Melissa’s history and how that related to her behavior with Toby and Hugo.

I really don’t want to reveal much more. I want for you to be able to pick up this book and dive into it, unwrapping the mystery one layer at a time.

Get your copy:


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