I picked up this book expecting a standard crime thriller; a quick read which is enjoyable, but easily forgotten. Apple Tree Yard is a lot more than that. It’s an intriguing book; a tale of two halves, it is part romantic thriller and part pure courtroom drama, and the mix works. This slow-burning, emotionally charged story really comes good in the end.
In this book, Louise Doughty takes a normal, respectable citizen, and explores what can happen when this citizen momentarily loses control and does something completely out of the ordinary. She explores the what if, the worst-case-scenario of how something which seems so simple can quickly spiral out of control.
Yvonne Carmichael is a well-respected scientist. She’s married with two grown-up children, and is happy with her lot, until she encounters Mark Cosby or X, as we know him as for the majority of the novel. After a chance encounter in the Houses of Parliament, the two embark on a passionate, illicit affair. She doesn’t even know his name, but they have sex everywhere – a crypt; the local park; an alley way; “in Picadilly, in the rush hour, with a thousand people hurrying by a few meters away”. All is going swimmingly well for the sexed up couple, until something happens which changes everything.
Doughty does a wonderful job of building Yvonne as a character, expanding on her home life, her relationships with those around her, and how she came to this point in her life where she decided to rebel. Yvonne is the narrator of the entire novel so, although the reader may not always agree with her opinion or actions, it’s all we have. At times, I felt that she came across a little deluded about her beloved X, but still just deluded enough to be relatable. She knows that she’s doing something wrong, so it’s understandable and realistic that she would try to justify her actions to herself through her story.
During the first half of the novel which charts the affair, Doughty intercepts the narratives with flash-forwards and hints which allude to different times ahead. Whilst Yvonne’s deluded high got a little annoying for me at times, there are always hints of something darker lurking around the corner. We know from the beginning that Yvonne ends up in court on a major charge, but we don’t know any details. As the second half of the novel opens, the tone changes drastically. It’s as if in the first half Yvonne was living in an ethereal, dreamlike state, caught up her own passion and doing her best to ignore the potential consequences of her actions. In the second half, reality bites. The rest of the story plays out as a gritty courtroom drama, as a diminished Yvonne and Mark wait out their fate.
Apple Tree Yard drives the reader to question what they have read, and whether they can trust their narrator. It explores how facts can be twisted to create an entirely different story, and how we can create an ideal scenario in our minds, excuse a persons foibles and flaws, whilst ignoring the stark reality of the situation. Yvonne reflects on “The stories we tell in order to make sense of ourselves, to ourselves”, and that’s exactly what this story is. It is her justification of her actions to herself. It makes for a compelling, multi-layered story which contains a killer twist within the last few pages.