The Wych Elm by Tana French – Book Review

The Wych Elm by Tana French – Book Review

The Wych Elm by Tana French

The Wych Elm

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One night changes everything for Toby. He’s always led a charmed life – until a brutal attack leaves him damaged and traumatised, unsure even of the person he used to be. He seeks refuge at his family’s ancestral home, the Ivy House, filled with memories of wild-strawberry summers and teenage parties with his cousins.

But not long after Toby’s arrival, a discovery is made: a skull, tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden.

As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself.

A spellbinding book from a novelist who takes crime writing and turns it inside out, The Wych Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, if we no longer know who we are.

Review by Stacey

The Wych Elm by Tana French is an intriguing thriller that begins with a fight and moves on to a stay at an ancestral home, and an old skull being unburied.

Toby, our protagonist, is attacked leaving him traumatised and seeking refuge at the one place he believes he will be safe, his ancestral home, Ivy House where his terminally ill uncle is living.

Toby retreats to Ivy House both to recover from his ordeal and to assist in caring for his uncle. While there, a skull is discovered beneath a wych elm, triggering an investigation into the family’s murky past and unveiling things that were never meant to be revealed.

The Wych Elm is told in the first person and from an unreliable narrator. After reading the synopsis, I anticipated an engrossing read. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The story progresses at an exceptionally slow pace, with little happening in the first half and most chapters being excessively long. I considered not finishing the book due to its sluggishness and my resulting boredom.

The characters are largely unlikable, and Toby tends to drone on for much of the novel. Once the skull is identified, the plot shifts to a whodunit-style thriller, which does increase the pace and engagement somewhat.

Overall, the book did not appeal to me, as I prefer thrillers with a more rapid pace. However, for readers who enjoy a slower, more contemplative narrative, The Wych Elm may be an ideal choice.

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Tana French


Tana French is the Sunday Times and New York Times-bestselling author of In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbour, The Secret Place, The Trespasser and The Wych Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Barry and Macavity awards, the LA Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller and the Irish Book Award for Best Crime Fiction. She grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and trained as an actor at Trinity College Dublin. She lives in Dublin with her family.

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