Apple Tree Yard

Louise Doughty
Friday, Jan 15, 2016

Yvonne Carmichael is a respected public authority on genetics. She's a middle-aged wife and mother. She's certainly normal, perhaps even boring. She is also accused of murder. How did such an unlikely turn of events come to pass?

At the beginning of Apple Tree Yard, Yvonne is testifying before a Parliamentary committee when she meets the mysterious man she refers to as X. Without much forethought, and completely uncharacteristically (for her), Yvonne and X begin an affair. The affair is an exciting distraction from her settled routine, and X is so incredibly enigmatic that Yvonne deduces he must be in some secret branch of government, perhaps MI5.

When a shocking and devastating event occurs in Yvonne's life, she turns to X for help. Rather than settling things down, however, X blows them up even further. And then he and Yvonne are sitting in court, accused as co-conspirators in a murder case, and everything Yvonne has ever done in her life--including the most mundane, humdrum details that are completely unconnected to the murder--is suddenly being scrutinized in an unflattering new light.

I found Apple Tree Yard on a list of quick reads, and while it was that, the pace was also rather uneven. For me, the first half of the book felt like a slog, the huge plot point with the most action and interest happened at about the halfway point, and then several small shocks studded the novel's latter half. I don't think they made quite the impact Doughty was hoping for, however--what I suspect she imagined as bombshells seemed to me a bit more like Black Cats on the Fourth of July (maybe loud, maybe startling, but certainly not the main event). While the premise and certain elements of the plot interested me, I found the characters' motivations improbable and hard to understand sometimes. Yvonne herself was the biggest mystery. For a character as smart as she is supposed to be, she thinks and acts in ways that are illogical and frankly baffling at times. Still, I would recommend Apple Tree Yard as a solid, but not outstanding read. Despite its flaws, it's well-written and interesting.

If this novel appeals to you, you may also want to try Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian, Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant, Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse, or He's Gone by Deb Caletti.


Written by Heather B.