Author: Louise Doughty
Apple Tree Yard is the seventh novel by London author Louise Doughty and my introduction to her. From a quick skim of the blurb on the back this book is not what I expected.
Louise Doughty has woven the tale through time slips which I found to be quite difficult to keep up with. The scene would skip from court to the past and it wasn’t until very late in the piece that the two matched up and told a complete story. I found myself a little confused for much of the book and couldn’t seem to immerse myself completely in the story. I can’t say whether this was a case of the timing being off, my not being in the right frame of mind or the places I was trying to read but it didn’t grab me the way I had been hoping.
The Prologue centres on a moment in court that changes everything, and I spent a lot of time waiting for the moment and hoping the story would catch up to it so I could put the pieces together but I don’t think it was really necessary. It was another instance of the Prologue not being a scene setter for something before the events of the novel but it wasn’t the end either, it was more somewhere in the middle. It didn’t serve to add suspense or hook me because it lacked context.
I like the basis of the story and the characters were intriguing if not likeable. The premise was interesting but actually reading the book was a bit of a struggle.
Yvonne Carmichael is a successful geneticist with a happy marriage, a lovely home and two grown children. She is addressing the Houses of Parliament and afterwards meets an intriguing man who compromises everything she thought she knew about herself. Yvonne is a very logical woman, she is practical and weighs up every option and every decision which is why she finds herself writing letters in the middle of the night that she will never send to a man whose name I’m not sure she ever knew.
Even Yvonne knows that she was caught at exactly the right moment or she never would have begun an affair, she wasn’t the type, but clearly in that moment she was ripe for some excitement, some naughtiness in her life that she knew she was never going to get at home. And so she embarked on a passionate affair with a man she hardly knew which totally turned her life upside down.
The book is written from Yvonne’s perspective so the mystery man remains exactly that for much of the narrative. She does not use his name, I would assume this is to protect them if the letters are ever discovered, and refers to him only as X. She seems happy to leave him a mystery, she doesn’t ask him questions about his life and they never discuss their families which is one point I can understand.
Their passionate affair takes Yvonne far from her comfort zone and though she feels desirable for a little while that soon becomes much more tawdry and sordid. Over the space of the novel we watch her sense of self change and the way she views the world. It was interesting to me to discover the perceptions and the rationalisations, the way a person can explain and justify and affair to themselves, and how they can do that while never for a moment faltering in their love for their spouse.
There is definite suspense as we move through time, unraveling the affair and waiting to discover what led Yvonne to be on trial in the Old Bailey. As we try to piece together the events that started with one quick encounter in the secluded Chapel in the Crypt below the Great Hall of Westminster and rapidly careened out of control.
The other thing that I found quite interesting to watch play out is the ideal of protection versus self-preservation. How long will you go on trying to protect the ones you love before the instinct for self preservation kicks in and you throw everyone else to the lions in the hopes of saving yourself?
The relationships Yvonne shared with the others around her were interesting to watch unfold, I kept expecting there to be something that explained how she got to where she was but there wasn’t really. The further we delved, the more we learned, the easier it became to see that living in a situation day in and out sometimes blinkers you to parts of a situation so what you would describe as a happy marriage may not quite be all that it seems.
I did find the premise to be intriguing and there was quite a twist I wasn’t expecting but I did find it was a book that took quite a bit of concentration to get through. I do have to agree though that Doughty is an author willing to explore deep territory.
If you’re looking for something with a bit of psychological depth that will get you thinking then this might just be an author to give a chance.