Witch Elm (French)

The Witch Elm 
Tana French, 2018
Penguin Publishing
528 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780735224629


Summary
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.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, when we no longer know who we are. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1973
Where—Vermont, USA
Education—B.A., Trinity College (Dublin)
Awards—Edgar Award, Macavity Award, Barry Award
Currently—lives in Dublin, Ireland


Tana French is an Irish novelist and theatrical actress. Her debut novel In the Woods (2007), a psychological mystery, won the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards for best first novel. She is a liaison of the Purple Heart Theatre Company and also works in film and voiceover.

French was born in the U.S. to Elena Hvostoff-Lombardi and David French. Her father was an economist working in resource management for the developing world, and the family lived in numerous countries around the globe, including Ireland, Italy, the US, and Malawi.

French attended Trinity College, Dublin, where she was trained in acting. She ultimately settled in Ireland. Since 1990 she has lived in Dublin, which she considers home, although she also retains citizenship in the U.S. and Italy. French is married and has a daughter with her husband.

Dublin Murder Squad series
In the Woods - 2007
The Likeness - 2008
Faithful Place - 2010
Broken Harbor - 2012
The Secret Places - 2014
The Trespasser - 2016

Stand-alone mystery
The Witch Elm - 2018
(Bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/2/2014.)



Book Reviews
You savor the details—the delicious portrayal of crisp fall weather in Ireland—as you race through the pages.… A tick-tocking mystery and a fascinating portrayal of memory as a cracked mirror, through which the past can’t quite be seen clearly.
Seattle Times


Head-spinning.… French has spun an engrossing meditation on memory, identity, and family. A master of psychological complexity, she toys with the minds of her characters and readers both.
Vogue
 

Spooky.
Entertainment Weekly
 

A thrilling novel about privilege, family lore, and perception.
PopSugar


The crime writer for people who think they don’t like genre fiction. Her prose is enveloping and intricate, but casually masks its cleverness. She sucks you in with mystery, then unfurls a masterfully rendered, super specific slice of Irish society.
Vogue.com


Exquisitely suspenseful.
Bustle


Tana French’s The Witch Elm is a chilling mystery about the unreliability of memory.
Real Simple


(Starred review) [A]s good as the best of [French's other] novels, if not better… using the driving mystery …as a vehicle for asking complex questions about identity and human nature.… [A] chilling interrogation of privilege and the transformative effects of trauma.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review) French's slow-burning, character-driven examination of male privilege is timely, sharp, and meticulously crafted. Recommended for her legions of fans, as well as any readers of literary crime fiction.—Stephanie Klose
Library Journal


(Starred review) [A] spellbinding stand-alone novel carefully crafted in her unique, darkly elegant prose style…, and the reader gets pulled into the vortex right along with [the characters]. —Jane Murphy
Booklist


The pace is slow, but the story is compelling, and French is deft in unraveling this book’s puzzles. Readers will see some revelations coming…, but there are some shocking twists, too. Psychologically intense.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. The novel opens and closes with Toby telling the reader that he considers himself a lucky person. Do you agree that he is lucky? When he says his luck is part of who he is, what do you think he means?

2. The novel begins with Toby getting caught covering for his coworker Tiernan, who is pretending to be an underprivileged teen artist. Toby is relieved at having dodged serious consequences, and doesn’t think his lie was particularly important. How did you feel when you first encountered Toby at the beginning of the novel? As the story progressed, did he absorb the significance of his lie?

3. Rather than focusing purely on who committed the crime, much of The Witch Elm examines how many people’s actions contributed to Dominic’s death. When you finished the novel, how did you feel about these questions of culpability? Did you see Toby as a victim, an accessory, or something more complicated?

4. For most of the novel, Toby stands by his belief that he’s a good person. But then Susanna and Leon tell him about their struggles with Dominic in high school, and about how Toby failed to help them. Did their stories change your opinion of Toby? Do you agree with Susanna and Leon that his obliviousness carried a certain amount of culpability?

5. Melissa sticks by Toby throughout most of the investigation, and only leaves after the drunken evening when Toby tries to trick Savannah and Leon into confessing. In your opinion, what about that conversation was the final straw for her?

6. Throughout the novel, Toby’s uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer. How does Hugo’s deterioration fit thematically with Toby’s own struggles with his mind? 

7. Once the string from Toby’s hoodie is found inside of the tree, he becomes afraid that he was involved in Dominic’s death. Why do you think he suspects himself so quickly? 

8. After the attack in his apartment, Toby notices that his mental capacities are impaired. He believes himself to be unreliable. How reliable a narrator did you find Toby? How did that affect the novel?

9. While Toby repeats how much he loves Melissa, he often hides things from her, including his physical and mental health problems and his fears about his role in Dominic’s murder. Why do you think he does not tell her the full truth? Is he protecting her, protecting himself, or underestimating her?

10.  Susanna states that Dominic’s harassment drove her to murder. Do you believe her reasoning? Do you have sympathy for Susanna?

11. Hugo turns himself in for Dominic’s murder. Both Toby and Rafferty think Hugo was protecting Toby. Susanna believes Hugo was oblivious to her actions during the summer Dominic was killed. Do you think Hugo knew more than he let on? Was he protecting Toby, or Susanna and Leon?

12. This novel is set in and around Dublin. How does the Irish setting contribute to the novel? Would the characters have different choices to make if the novel were set in America?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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