Review of The Wych Elm – Tana French

Posted: January 2, 2019 in crime, Review

A spellbinding standalone from a literary writer who turns the crime genre inside out, The Wych Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, if we no longer know who we are.

For me it all goes back to that night, the dark corroded hinge between before and after, the slipped-in sheet of trick glass that tints everything on one side in its own murky colours and leaves everything on the other luminous and untouchable.

One night changes everything for Toby. A brutal attack leaves him traumatised, unsure even of the person he used to be. He seeks refuge at his uncle’s rambling home, the Ivy House, filled with cherished memories of wild-strawberry summers and teenage parties with his cousins.

But not long after Toby’s arrival, a discovery is made. A skull, tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden.

As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself.

The Wych Elm

Tana French


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Piper Mejia

Sometimes there is a novel that is not there to entertain, or to enlighten, but rather to refract the complexity of life. The blurb will have to believing The Wych Elm is a crime thriller, which it is, but it is also a reminder that no matter how close you are to your family, or how many good friends you have, no one really knows what can push a person to do terrible things.

Tana French’s protagonist Toby Hennessy prevents the reader from ever getting too close to understanding him, as he is also unable to understand himself. Using repressed memories, a head injury, along with almost a conceited outlook on the world Tana French draws us into one preventable but inevitable event after another as Toby’s past and present violently collide.

At times it is difficult to like any of the characters, and suspension of belief is almost impossible, however, we are compelled to keep reading because The Wych Elm is not about a tidy happily ever after but rather it is about a universal truth; that we can survive almost everything, even the darkest part of ourselves.

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