When you consider reading a book, you might do well to first ask yourself a couple of questions. Such as, “Am I in the mood for a quick read? A read that doesn’t require me to stop and think over what I just learned about the main character or as to what I would do in a similar circumstance? In “The Witch Elm” we have a character-driven absorbing read that will, on occasion, challenge you. Folks looking for a quick read, especially commuters, may want to look elsewhere.
If you’re still here, welcome to my reading room…
POV: First person, which imparts an intimacy that is needed by a tale such as this. Getting inside Toby’s head to learn how he experiences, and attempts to recover from, his fall is one of the major themes in this character-driven story.
BLUSH FACTOR: To put it gently, unless your church group differs greatly from mine, you will NOT be reading this aloud to them. In fact, you’re more likely to disavow any knowledge of this book, even if you did read it in bed and keep it hidden from view by visitors.
ADVENTURE: Yes, at least for me, as I’m a Yank. For people in the UK, I have no idea.
THE WRITING: Friendly, intimate, chatty. Good flow and, dare I say, sway. Almost feel like it’s a waltz. Mind you, when I was younger I abhorred think books, which, at 528 pages or thereabouts, I would have run the other way to find a quicker read. I was the sort who decried the loss of trees for such books. Now, though, I’ve come to appreciate what additional pages really means – character development, asides that afford us time to view how the other half lives. Or, permit us to develop a one-on-one relationship with the narrator to appreciate how they can draw us in with a gentle tug here and there.
In other words, if you’re looking for a quick read, this is liable to disappoint. It also, however, might draw you in to show you the value of what I stated above.
GRAMMAR, EDITING & SUCH: This is a first-rate production by a premier writer. Bear in mind, though, this is written by a writer in the UK, so some terms might need a little interpretation to fully appreciate their meaning.
CHARACTER: Watching how the writer brings Toby from a full, happy, lucky man downwards is engrossing.
This excerpt comes from quite early in the story, so is free of what I consider spoilers, plus free of words that Amazon does not permit in reviews. This glimpse, however brief, will show a side of Toby that may dispel any prejudices in his favor. If that could annoy you, please pass on reading the excerpt.
‘…hadn’t there been some coke left over from that Paddy’s Day party? But surely if they had been planning to give me hassle over that, they would have mentioned it by now— “How about your car?” Martin asked.
“Oh,” I said. My car hadn’t even occurred to me. “Yeah. It’s a BMW coupe—I mean, it’s a few years old, but it’s probably still worth— Did they take it?”
“They did, yeah,” Martin said. “Sorry. We’ve been keeping a lookout for it, but no joy yet.”
“The insurance’ll sort you out, no problem,” Flashy Suit told me comfortingly. “We’ll give you a copy of the report.”
“Where were the keys?” Martin asked.
“In the living room. On the, the”—word gone again—“the sideboard.”
He blew air out of the side of his mouth. “In full view of the windows, man. Ever leave the curtains open?”
Martin grimaced. “You’ll know better next time, wha’? Did you have them open last Friday evening?”
“I don’t—” Getting home, going to bed, everything in between, it was all blank, a black hole big enough that I didn’t even want to get near it—“I don’t remember.”
“Did you have the car out that day?”
It took me a moment, but: “No. I left it at home.” I had figured that, whatever happened with Richard, I was going to want a few pints.
“In the car park in front of the building.”
“Do you drive it most days?”
“Not really. Mostly I walk to work, if the weather’s OK, save the hassle of parking in town? But if it’s raining or, or I’m running late, then yeah, I drive. And if I go somewhere at the weekend. Maybe two days a week? Three?”
“When was the last time you had it out?”
“I guess—” I knew I had stayed home for a few days before that night, couldn’t remember exactly how long— “The beginning of that week? Monday?”
Martin lifted an eyebrow, checking: You positive? “Monday?”
“Maybe. I don’t remember. Maybe it was over the weekend.” I got where he was going with this. The car park was open to the road, no gate. Martin thought someone had scoped out my car, clocked me getting into it, watched the windows till he identified my apartment, and then come looking for the keys. In spite of the element of creepiness—me sprawled contentedly on my sofa eating crisps and watching TV, eyes at the dark crack between the curtains—I liked that theory, an awful lot better than I liked my Gouger one. Car thieves weren’t personal, and they were hardly likely to come back.
“Anything else valuable?” Martin asked.
“My laptop. My Xbox. I think that’s it. Did they—”
“Yeah,” Flashy Suit said. “Your telly, too. That’s the standard stuff: easy to sell for a few bob. We’ll keep the serial numbers on file, if you’ve
French, Tana. The Witch Elm: A Novel (pp. 57-59). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
As other reviewers have stated, the story slows a bit during the development stage, but that I believe was an artistic decision and has nothing to do with why I’m taking a star away. Oh, and although there is some hint of sex in the romantic aspects of the story, there is nothing graphic, from my viewpoint. In fact, I might have preferred to see some. So, why four stars? The profanities and other slang are so numerous. Mind you, I agree with the decision to include rough street talk to set the tone. However, in my thinking, less can be more. Mostly though, I just want to ensure readers wishing to avoid such talk are properly alerted.
Four stars out of five. Still, four stars is certainly a strong recommendation to read.
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