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Novel Ideas: ‘Apple Tree Yard’ by Louise Doughty

apple-tree-yard(Chelsea Update would like to thank Cathy, one of the adult services librarians, for this review.)

There is always an open mystery/suspense/thriller novel on my reading shelf. Quite often, I will finish one of these page-turners and say to myself, “That was a good one.”

About once a year, however, my closing feeling is more enthusiastic: “That was a REALLY good one.” So it was with Apple Tree Yard by British writer, Louise Doughty.

Yvonne Carmichael tells us her own story. She is a middle-aged scientist, a geneticist, both accomplished and respected, who breaks out of her by-the-book- nose-to-the-grindstone life to take a walk on the wild side. Though she seemingly has it all (a loving husband, two grown children, a successful career), she begins a passionate affair with a seductive and mysterious stranger. Yvonne refers to her lover as X; her own Y, she notes is both fitting and inverted.

At first, Yvonne balances her several lives, but her choices ultimately unleash dark consequences as the X-Y relationship mixes with one act of violence to generate another. These events transform the novel from a steamy romance into a psychological legal thriller as Yvonne finds herself on trial, British-style, across the aisle from her lover.

This novel is distinguished, first, by the deep question it raises: to what extent is each character’s fate influenced by his or her gender and by society’s views of men’s and women’s “proper” roles? The second, equally stunning, feature for me was the dramatic contrast between Yvonne’s passion-saturated, soul-afire vision of her lover X and her glimpse of the man revealed at last behind the curtain, a named individual with a past, a skeleton.

With choices and forces finally played out, Yvonne is left to assess the wreckage of her former life.

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