The Witch Elm is Tana French's first standalone book. I talked about this book last week in my First Chapter First Paragraph post here. If you'd like to read the first paragraphs or the blurb, just click over to that post. I listened to this one narrated by Paul Nugent. He's new to me and I liked his voice part of the time and not so much at other times.
I've shared more than once that Tana French is on my favorite author list. She writes a book and I know that I'll be reading it. It's been that way since I read her first book, In The Woods. I've read all the Dublin Murder Squad books and liked them all. My favorite is probably Faithful Place, but they all pleased me. And even though they are billed as a series and do have some characters that repeat, they are loosely connected. Usually a more minor character from one book moves to the forefront in another and so on. I'm used to the way French works with her police characters and crime solving.
Now we'll talk about The Witch Elm. Sigh. I've struggled with what to say. Yes, I finished the book. I did long to have a print or e-book copy though because this story moves very, very slowly. However, I wasn't loving it enough to purchase a copy and the library hold lists were and are insane. I thought about going to a bookstore and reading the ending from their shelves.
As I said, this book moves very, very slowly. It tells of Toby who has always considered himself a lucky guy. He has grown up in a close family and spent a lot of time with his cousins, Susannah and Leon. Each of them are only children and their fathers are brothers. Growing up, the cousins stayed a lot with their Uncle Hugo (the only unmarried brother) while their parents traveled. Hugo lives in the family home, Ivy House, which belonged to Toby's grandparents. And then Toby is attacked by burglars in his apartment and he suffers a serious head injury. As he is recovering, he and his girlfriend, Melissa, go to stay with Uncle Hugo at Ivy House. Hugo has been diagnosed with brain cancer and the family needs someone to watch out for him and make sure he has help nearby as he receives treatment and as his condition progresses.
Toby has never had to worry about too much. He was a popular guy growing up and he still has his pals from his teen years. He is good at talking his way out of trouble and getting what he wants. This attack and head injury are tough on him and so, for the most part, this is the story of how Toby is coping (or not coping) with memory loss and physical symptoms that he tries to minimize. And then Susannah's children discover a skull in the witch elm in the garden. A human skull. The police get involved and pretty much everything goes nutty.
Well, I was determined that since this was a Tana French book that I would certainly like it or come to like it. And off and on, I did - sort of. I kept thinking that this would be a gripping mystery of that skull. And it was - sort of. There are definite secrets and Toby's memory loss was sad. However, I didn't like many of the characters and found it very hard to care about their secrets. The only characters that I liked were Uncle Hugo (I was sad for his illness and how that progressed) and Melissa, Toby's girlfriend. And there was so, so, so much talking in the second half of the book. On and on and on. Which is why I wanted to go to the bookstore and read ahead. By the time I got to the end, I was happy to say - 'done now and let's move along to something else'.
I rarely finish books that I'm not enjoying. I do think Tana French can write very, very well. However, I think I need to stick with her crime solving cop-centered books. I had a few friends who were displeased with the end of In The Woods. And my friend Les liked the first few books by French, but not the last two. I am much more sympathetic about that now. So, did I like this book? No. However...
I understand that a TV adaptation is coming for the first two Dublin Murder Squad books, In The Woods and The Likeness. I think that BBC One and Starz will be featuring it. You can read about it here and here. I'll look forward to perhaps seeing that at some point.
I'm hoping that Tana French's next book will go back to the type of crime novels she's written in the past. Have you read this book? Did you like it? Please share...