Friday, April 24, 2020

'The Wych Elm' by Tana French

24 April 2020

Regular readers may remember my enthusiasm for the Dublin Murder Squad novels by Tana French (all 6 books reviewed here between May 2016 and April 2018). These are crime novels which prove that genre fiction can be beautifully written. And, although characters recur and there are references to previous cases, each of the Murder Squad novels works as a stand-alone story. So I was looking forward to Tana French’s first completely self-contained novel ‘The Wych Elm’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Paul Nugent). ‘The Wych Elm’ also deals with a murder mystery but is narrated by one of the people caught up in the dramatic events, rather than by one of the police officers investigating it. This made the story more intriguing as it was hard to see where it was going without the normal narrative arc of crime, investigation, revelation. The first sections of the book present two seemingly separate violent crimes involving the same family – which feels unlikely to be a coincidence but it is very difficult to see how they might be connected. I enjoyed the ambiguity of this puzzle. And, as with her other novels, the writing is impressive and there is as much emphasis on the feelings and relationships of the main characters as there is on the plot. But explanations were very slow to reveal themselves and it felt like an extremely long book. Hardly any of the many characters (including the first person narrator) appeared sympathetic and it was ultimately quite hard to care what happened to them. And I felt the plot relied far too much on someone developing partial memory loss after being attacked, which always seems too convenient a way to hold back revelations. Maybe my expectations were too high – ‘The Wych Elm’ has much to commend it – but if you haven’t read any Tana French I would encourage you to start with the Dublin Murder Squad novels (which you can read in any order), the best of which is 'The Secret Place’ (reviewed here in December 2016).



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