“The Wych Elm” by Tana French


Thanks to Penguin Books UK and Netgalley for the advance reading copy.

I’ve heard a lot of people raving about Tana French so was chuffed when I got an ARC of this novel. The mystery of the body in the Wych Elm is something that has always fascinated me, and this is an interesting spin on the concept. If you’re interested in the real-life incident that helped to inspire this novel, the “Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm” episode of The Dark Histories Podcast gives a really good overview of it. I also have another book on my reading list that features a similar story so it will be interesting to read that too and compare. That said, this book is not a simple retelling of the real incident, it just has a similar main event.  

This book follows Toby and the fallout from a life altering event that happens to him towards the beginning of the novel. I’d say the story takes rather a long time to get going, I think I was a good 20-30% into it before things really started happening. I’m not against a slow burn myself, but other fans of the crime/thriller genre may find it more difficult to stay interested. The author is clearly a great writer and the Dublin setting and supporting characters are portrayed well.  

My main issue with this novel wasn’t its rather sedate pacing, but more to do with the sheer unlikeability of the main character Toby. He really is just an awful person. I’m aware that this is probably intentional, but his snide inner monologue just rendered me entirely unable to feel any empathy for him. The family dynamics are portrayed well, and the characters are for the most part interesting, but aside from Uncle Hugo, I didn’t find myself liking any of them. I struggle with the “everyone is a shitty person” trope in any form of media and it was the same for this book. The resolution to the main mystery was quite underwhelming too. 

All that said, I still enjoyed reading it for the most part. The quality of the writing carried the less likeable aspects of the novel and the story was interesting enough to hold me attention. I’ll certainly be checking out some of the author’s other work based on this novel and the positive reviews i’ve read from others.

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