Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review: 'Apple Tree Yard' by Louise Doughty

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty is a psychological thriller and courtroom drama - a compelling and sometimes gruelling read.

Yvonne Carmichael, a 52-year-old geneticist, has an affair with a man she has just met. He exudes confidence, and controls how the relationship evolves. Unfortunately there are disastrous consequences for both of them.

Themes of judgement, guilt, truth and innocence run though this novel and the author raises many questions which leave the reader pondering well after the story has ended.

Spoiler Alert: It is impossible to review this book without revealing some of the key plot points so please read this later if you haven’t yet read the book.

The story is narrated by Yvonne as she records her feelings about her affair with Mark. She is flattered by his attention and enjoys the cloak-and-dagger element of their meetings. They have sex in the crypt chapel and other public places throughout the back streets of London. The evening they have sex in a doorway in Apple Tree Yard is the same evening she is violently raped by a colleague.

The Houses of Parliament. Source:
Yvonne’s decides she will not report the rape. She thinks the police would question how drunk she was at the party where it happened. They would accuse her of openly flirting with George. And they would find out that she had sex with Mark (who is not her husband) just hours before. Probably they would think she was asking for it. Her reasoning is measured. Her decision is shocking, yet understandable.
The story unfolds slowly then as George continues to taunt her and Mark decides to warn him off. When Yvonne drives Mark to George's house and then away again hours later, she is aware of important details (the length of time he remains in the house, the change of clothes), yet she doesn't ask him what happened. Soon afterwards they are both arrested. She finds herself on trial for murder. Even at this late stage, she wants to hide the whole truth from the legal team and the jury. She thinks she'll be able to protect her career and her family.
Part of the draw of this book is the slow reveal. It was hard to know where anything was leading. There were quite a few red herrings - Mark’s blood type, her son’s diagnosis, her husband’s affair and the perfect detail about the day a student propositioned her. In the latter, especially, we are totally misled—the relevant person in that scene was George, not the student. 
Also we begin to feel that Yvonne is only giving us one side of the story, the side where Mark is innocent, George is evil and she is the innocent bystander. The book could have been called 'Quite a few shades of grey' because nothing is as it first seems.
The sands are constantly shifting and it’s clear that no character is totally good or totally evil. Yvonne’s husband starts off steady and predictable, then we find out he’s an adulterer. Mark is mysterious and exciting but turns out to be a sad nobody who betrays her. George, the affable colleague, is the one who turns into a violent rapist. Yvonne herself is ‘competent’ and mature but acts like a needy teenager in matters of love.

There are plenty of unexpected twists in this story right to the very end when Yvonne reflects on the conversation she had in bed with Mark when he was half-asleep.

It is also a fascinating insight into how society views an attractive woman in her 50s, and the injustices of the justice system. The fact that the rape was so violent would have worked in Yvonne’s favour had it been a rape trial, but it actually worked against her in the murder trial. George, the rapist, is called the ‘victim’ even when describing the rape (because he was the victim of murder.)

Yvonne’s own view of her affair shows her own double-standards about sex. In the alley it was sexy and exciting, but when she viewed it through others’ eyes she saw it as sordid. The female barrister's twisting of her words about being 'free and easy' (when discussing what kind of coffee she wanted) were disturbing, especially coming from a woman.

In summary I thoroughly recommend this book. I loved the way the story moves forwards and backwards in time. I was enthralled by the workings of the Old Bailey and enjoyed experiencing the trial through Yvonne’s eyes. The only negative for me, which I found annoying and distracting, was the way the narrator addressed Mark as X and ‘You’ and ‘my love’ throughout.

I just wish I could get the image of the mother and baby chimpanzees out of my mind.

I enjoy a book that ricochets around my head long after I've finished. These are some of the questions I'm still considering.
  • How much did her husband know before the trial, having read the computer files? Why didn't he say something?
  • Will she meet up with Mark again when he gets out of prison? And why (cop on, woman!)
  • Why does she continue to call him ‘my love’ after his betrayal?
  • What was the relevance of Mark’s wife’s outburst in court (we heard about it a couple of times)?
  • What was the relevance of her son’s illness?
  • Was Yvonne actually unhinged? (We know about her mother’s suicide and her son’s illness. She knew Mark returned to the car in different clothes but didn’t ask him (or tell us) what happened in George's house.)
  • Did she ask Mark to kill George?
  • Did she only tell us half the story?

Looking forward to reading some of Louise Doughty's other novels.



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  3. So does she get found guilty? And if not, who does.