☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆
What It’s About:
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 Witch Elm is not Tana French’s usual police procedural. In this murder mystery, an ancestral home that is filled with happy memories becomes a nightmarish crime scene. The main character and narrator, Toby, likens himself to a cheerful, oblivious Labrador. Problems have always slipped off him as if he is coated in Teflon, but is he lucky enough to get away with murder?
The assault that leaves him near dead turns Toby into an unreliable narrator. His faulty memory allows unscrupulous provocateurs to plant seeds of guilt with the police and questions in Toby that fuel his internal turmoil. I found myself teetering back and forth on whether or not I liked this character and whether or not I thought he was the murderer. Which was undoubtedly the author’s intent.
After Toby’s introduction and his gruesome attack, Ms. French’s plot slows as she sets up Toby’s post trauma decline and his unstable frame of mind as well as introduces the reader to the rest of her characters. From Toby’s point of view readers meet Toby’s girlfriend, the cheerful and loyal Melissa, his annoyingly concerned parents, affable Uncle Hugo, and the cousins, Susanna and Leon, whom Toby thinks of as pseudo-siblings. The author uses Toby’s now-slow mind to dole out information–in the form of cracked-mirror perceptions and memories– about the individuals. As red herrings are thrown into the mix, Toby and the reader question him and nearly everyone surrounding him.
The Witch Elm is not a fast-paced thriller, but it is compelling. I couldn’t tear myself away from this book. I desperately had to know who was the murderer and how (if) it tied into Toby’s attack. I can’t put my finger on why I felt the ending was not wholly satisfying, but it was probably because I was hoping for a different outcome. After days of thought, it came to me that Toby’s final monologue supports Hugo’s belief that…
<i>“One gets into the habit of being oneself. It takes some great upheaval to crack that shell and force us to discover what else might be underneath.”</i>
This led to thinking about humanity, integrity, luck, karma, and Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. Read The Witch Elm for family drama, mystery, and thought-provoking questions of the consequences of physical torment and mental anguish.
The audiobook is excellently narrated by Paul Nugent
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