‘Apple Tree Yard’ by Louise Doughty

2013-06-18 17.31.23This was a book which once I started it, whenever I was away from it, all I could think about was when I could return to find out what was going to happen next.  It was a tremendous pleasure, and one I’ve found with sad rarity  recently; I’m so much happier when I’m immersed in a book than when the volume I’m carrying around with me feels more like a chore than an enjoyment.

The book opens as the protagonist Yvonne Carmichael, a successful woman in her early 50s sits in court accused of a serious crime.  The case has been going well, but with one question from a barrister she realises that she is about to be undone.  The novel then unfolds the story of a brief illicit affair begun in the Palace of Westminster as Yvonne is giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee, and undertaken in a series of unlikely dark corners in central London leading to a violent and dramatic conclusion.

It’s a clever novel, as not only does it have that thriller element, asking the question how did Yvonne end up in court, and revealing the information at a satisfying pace, not too slowly (which can drive this reader mad) and not to quickly (so you can feel the tension building), but it has at its centre a highly experienced successful woman who can both be analytical enough to be aware of the recklessness of her own behaviour, and rash enough to carry on doing it anyway and blinkered enough believe the stories she tells herself about her lover.  Throw in the complex layers of deception and delusion, as well as the hint at polemic on the double standards applied in society about the sexual behaviour of women contrasted with that of men, and here is a book well worth getting your teeth into.

There is a recurring metaphor underlying the unfolding narrative.  In a scientific experiment using monkeys with their babies, the floor of their cages was progressively heated making it impossible for them to sit or stand on it.  After climbing the walls in an attempt to escape evidently eventually all the mothers would finally resort to standing on their babies.  There is always the question of what will a person do to save themselves, knowing that the answer will rarely be palatable.

The novel is also interesting from a craft point of view and the way in which it is constructed.  Much of it is written in the second person present tense, in the form of letters written to her unnamed lover by Yvonne late at night on her home computer.  It affords variety from the first person used in the rest of the book.  First person present tense is a tricky form, but it works here because the tension in the narrative is all about Yvonne, her experiences and more importantly, her perceptions; we have to be close enough to her thinking to share it, even if we as readers are telling her all the while that she shouldn’t believe everything he tells her.

My only quibble would be with the neatness of the ending, but by then I’d had such an enjoyable read that I was in forgiving mood.

I should declare a small interest here; I was very fortunate to have Louise as a mentor for a year and she was tremendously helpful to me.  I admire her writing, and could see in this book the traces of much of the advice she gave me about narrative and pace.  It  is, for me, her best book so far.

Have you read it?  Do you agree?

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3 Comments

  1. yah! awsome………..

    Reply

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