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review 2018-11-13 19:58
The Witch Elm / Tana French
The Witch Elm - Tana French

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

 

This book isn’t part of French’s Dublin Murder Squad books, so don’t go into it expecting that. She is still writing in the mystery genre, but no doubt feeling the urge to diversify a bit, and not be locked into just one series.

Having said that, Toby (the main character of this book) reminded me in several ways of Rob Ryan from the first DMS book, In the Woods. They both have dodgy memories and both start out each book seeming like happy-go-lucky guys. Ms. French doesn’t let them stay too settled, however. Toby’s kinda-sorta-close family ties also reminded me of Frank Mackey in DMS #3, Faithful Place. Frank, just like Toby, had to sort through family history and old memories to come to some sort of conclusion about the present.

How accurately do we remember the past? I think the general consensus is that we’re all revisionists. (As Stephen King wrote in Joyland, “When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”) And how much more severe is that situation going to be when Toby has been severely head-injured? Actually, I really didn’t like the Toby of the first few pages and was wondering what had happened to one of my favourite writers! I usually really enjoy even French’s most annoying characters—so I was happily surprised that head-injured Toby was more much interesting and (to me) likeable.

I had a great big soft spot for Uncle Hugo as well. Having done genealogy myself, I loved that French made him a genealogical researcher (and a good one). I’ve got some Irish ancestors, who emigrated to Canada and kept raising money to bring more relatives over. I’ve got to find the time to learn more about them!

The Witch Elm also made me think of M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains, which I absolutely adored. I thought that Toby resembled Oliver Marks from that novel, particularly when it came to the book’s ending. A lovely messy ending, with only hints at how things will actually resolve when either Oliver or Toby emerge back into the world.

So, I maybe didn’t love The Witch Elm quite as much as the Dublin Murder Squad, but I still found it to be a book well worth reading. Ms. French, I am still a devotée.

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text 2018-11-08 17:59
Reading progress update: I've read 36 out of 464 pages.
The Witch Elm - Tana French

 

Is it wrong of me to like Toby better now, now that he's had the shit kicked out of him by burglars?

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review 2018-11-06 23:05
The Count of Chanteleine
The Count of Chanteleine: A Tale of the French Revolution - Jules Verne

I jumped at the chance of reading this book because I am still on a mission to read more stories by Jules Verne. 

 

This particular story is set during the French Revolution where the Count of Chanteleine is fighting for the country only to find out that his wife and daughter have been captured by the revolutionaries. The Count sets of to find them and keep them save. His efforts are too late for his wife who's already fallen victim to Madam Guillotine, so when he does manage to save his daughter, he goes to extreme efforts to hide her away and ensure her safety.

 

This is where the main part of the story sets in and this is also where the story turns into a bad daytime soap opera. 

 

Not one of Verne's best works.

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text 2018-11-01 17:48
TBR Thursday
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C.S. Lewis,Pauline Baynes
The Reader - Traci Chee
The Witch Elm - Tana French
Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean - Morten Str√łksnes
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

 

How many times have The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Reader appeared on my weekly TBR post?  But now I have added incentive for TVofDT, as it is part of a completed series and therefore qualifies for my First Festive Task.  Yay!

 

And of course, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is part of the Flat Book Society, which I am finally participating in for the first time. 

 

I'm also going to have to pay attention to Tana French's The Witch Elm, as there are 147 people on the library waiting list!!! 

 

Plus, who can resist the tale of two nutty Norwegians who decide to fish for Greenland sharks from a tiny rubber dingy?  Shark Drunk should be entertaining.

 

My book club meets on Friday, when we will be discussing Grave Mercy.  I am planning to bake this evening and I'm seriously considering making Orange Gingerbread.  Photos on Monday.  I also have Mexican food on the brain because of the Festive Tasks, so that will be factored into this week's grocery list.

 

I'm meeting a group of women friends for brunch on Sunday at a little bistro within walking distance of my home.  That may be worth a photo too.

 

Have a fun & festive weekend, folks!

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review 2018-10-30 17:20
A Great Standalone From Tana French
The Witch Elm - Tana French

Self-involved, narcissistic and oblivious Toby Hennessy receives a harsh come-uppance in Tana French’s newest novel, The Witch Elm.   This first-person narrative allows the reader to witness Toby’s transformation from an entitled jokester to a man shaken by events that cause him to question his morality and potential for cruelty.  Toby works in PR at an art gallery when he is not out drinking with his friends or cuddled up with his wonderfully perfect and adoring girlfriend. After a typical night at the pub, Toby is awakened to the sound of strangers in his flat.  When he surprises the burglars, Toby gets beaten so badly that he sustains a traumatic head injury that leaves him severely impaired.  His recovery leaves him ashamed of his new limitations, and he soon sinks into a drug-hazed depression.  His cousin suggests that Toby could use his medical leave to help their uncle, who is dying of cancer.  Toby accedes to the plan when his girlfriend agrees to accompany him to his Uncle Hugh’s house, a long-time family estate and the location of many childhood memories. Toby struggles to manage his physical and mental difficulties but finds comfort in a new routine in the familiar surroundings.  Their peace doesn’t last long, however.  A skull is discovered in a tree on the grounds during a family meeting, leading to a disruptive and extensive police investigation.  The evidence points to a potential murder that must have occurred during Toby’s adolescence, and he and other family members become the main suspects.  Toby tries to do a bit of sleuthing, but his inquiries reveal some disturbing things about himself that he may have never realized or just can’t remember. Toby begins to distrust his family and his version of past events, leading him to question motives and suspect shared secrets.  Tana French has an amazing ability to construct complete characters, making them so familiar with all their flaws and foibles. It is a testament to her talent that she can portray such an unlikeable character that believably evolves through her storytelling to become sympathetic. Much more than just an imaginative and well-plotted mystery, The Witch Elm is a study in the delusions brought about by privilege and entitlement.  The author explores the theme of luck-by birth or circumstance-and whether experiences and/or nature allow certain people to avoid difficulties that would plague others. She addresses how small choices and purposeful ignorance can lead to a crisis of self.  Fans of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series will be delighted to see her talents sustained and expanded in this exceptional standalone addition to her work.

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