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The Witch Elm: A Novel
by Tana French

Published: 2018-10-09
Kindle Edition : 526 pages
7 members reading this now
27 clubs reading this now
4 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 3 members
"Tana French's best and most intricately nuanced novel yet. . . Get ready for the whiplash brought on by its final twists and turns." -The New York Times

A brilliant new work of suspense from "the most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years." (Washington Post)


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Introduction

"Tana French's best and most intricately nuanced novel yet. . . Get ready for the whiplash brought on by its final twists and turns." -The New York Times

A brilliant new work of suspense from "the most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years." (Washington Post)


From the writer who "inspires cultic devotion in readers" (The New Yorker) and has been called "incandescent" by Stephen King, "absolutely mesmerizing" by Gillian Flynn, and "unputdownable" (People), comes a gripping new novel that turns a crime story inside out.

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.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of October 2018: Unlike Tana French's earlier novels, The Witch Elm is narrated not by a Dublin Murder Squad detective, but rather by Toby, a charming young man who always seems to have luck on his side. Toby’s life is forever altered after a home invasion at his apartment leaves him brutally beaten, his future uncertain. Who would do this to him, and why? That appears to be the story French is going to tell, but while Toby is convalescing at the family’s ancestral home a human skull is discovered. The identity of the deceased leads back to a long-ago summer when Toby and his cousins lived at the house—and a whole new mystery begins to unfold. How well do we really know those closest to us? Or even ourselves? These are questions that French elegantly poses in The Witch Elm, and the answers are not as obvious as they might seem. Tana French’s first standalone mystery is a twisty delight for existing fans. It is also the perfect book for newcomers to discover one of fiction’s best crime writers. —Seira Wilson, Amazon Book Review

Excerpt

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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?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by enitsirhc (see profile) 12/12/19

 
by karenostrye (see profile) 07/09/19

It was ok. I wouldn't recommend it to other groups.

 
by madangel (see profile) 03/23/19

I was really exited about reading this book and even suggested it for my book club. To me it was very hard to get into.

 
  "The Witch Elm "by bclarkgreene (see profile) 01/07/19

Just possibly Tana French's best book ever - and that is saying a lot as I am a big fan of her books. Toby is a golden boy who has had the good luck to breeze through a fairly privileged lif... (read more)

 
by Emilyevogt (see profile) 01/03/19

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