“The Thing is, I suppose,” he said, “that one gets into the habit of being oneself. It takes some great upheaval to crack that shell and force us to discover what else might be underneath.”
Here’s the thing about The Wych Elm by Tana French: it’s a good book, but it’s not a great one. Perhaps you’re wondering what I mean by that exactly, and to be honest that is completely understandable because it is quite the vague statement. I think this is because I am struggling myself with how I feel about this book. I truly wanted to love this book, because I think that Tana French is an excellent writer. Her writing in The Wych Elm is fantastic, but I had quite a few issues with the story. When I finished the book my boyfriend asked me what I thought, and my response was just “meh”.
For one, I found the narrator Toby incredibly frustrating. I understand that characters must be flawed, but I felt like Toby was too flawed in a way. I think that if a story is to be told from the first person point of view, then the character must at least be likeable enough that I care what happens to him. I didn’t feel that way about Toby, and the only reason I kept reading was because of French’s writing and because I was intrigued by the mystery.
Which brings me to my second issue – the mystery itself. I don’t want to give away any plot points, but I do think that the mystery was intriguing until the very end. When the novel ended I was still grappling with some unanswered questions, which isn’t ideal. Perhaps this is unfair, but if the ending of a novel doesn’t feel right, then this tends to really impact my opinion on the story as a whole. Furthermore, the main mystery wasn’t introduced until at least one hundred pages in. This actually didn’t bother me at first, because I was quite intrigued by the initial mystery, but my attention did start to waver after a while. The build up did help to establish Toby’s character, but it didn’t exactly make him more likeable.
Ultimately, I feel like The Wych Elm was a good story, but it was baffling at times. For instance, I question the choice of Toby as the narrator. When I read a mystery novel, I love to be taken through the investigations by the police and the detective. Since The Wych Elm was told from the perspective of a potential suspect, we didn’t get to see what was behind the scenes of the investigation. I think The Wych Elm would have been a much better novel if the reader was given access to this perspective.
I’ve actually really struggled with whether to give this book a rating of two or three, but I ultimately decided on three because of French’s excellent writing. The Wych Elm had the potential to be a four star book, in my opinion, if it were told from a different perspective.
Have you read this book? I’d love to know what you think!