Book Review: Apple Tree Yard

Series: No

Author: Louise Doughty

Pages: 317 (Hardcover)

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Recommendation: If you are okay with certain sensitive scenes, then you’ll really like this book after delving into the psychological aspects of it.

How did a seemingly happy, married mother of two and brilliant scientist end up sweating under the harsh lights of the courtroom and penetrating gaze of a jury?  This is how the book, Apple Tree Yard begins, luring readers in before dashing all their hopes for a brilliant and suspenseful crime novel.

This book is not for everyone.  The reason we say that is because this book was not for us.  We both enjoy a good courtroom drama, but there are many elements of the story that, if we had not committed to review and blog about it, would have made us return the book to the library ASAP.  This book wasn’t for us not because it was written poorly. It wasn’t for us not because the characters weren’t well-developed. The reason we could not get fully on-board with Apple Tree Yard is because it has sensitive scenes that some people may not be able to take.  We are those people. Sexual escapades and sexual exploration are one thing. Sexual violence is another. We find it very difficult to read about sexual violence, a harsh reality that many women and men find themselves in. We cry for these people. We want to support these people.  We do not want to read fictional stories involving these situations. It’s just not our thing. There’s enough of that in the real world.

The scene was short.  The aftermath was brutal.  It resonated with us and put us in a bad mood the entire time we were reading the novel.  It was a turning point in the novel and the wick that lit the fire of psychological torture the main character had to endure.  It’s important for us to get that out because, overall, Apple Tree Yard was a good book.

Into the Mind of Apple Tree Yard

The story takes place in London, where 52 year-old Dr. Yvonne Carmichael lives and works as a distinguished member of the scientific community – a geneticist, to be exact.  Her two adult children are grown and out of the house, and her marriage has become one of convenience, not love. She is at a point in her life where her career is dwindling, her children are distant, and she and her husband have not been intimate in years, so she decides to embark on a rather lurid, raunchy affair with a man she has just met and spoken to for only a couple of minutes (!!! Yes, we were a bit alarmed at the speed in which intercourse took place in this book between the protagonist and “Mr. X”).  This book delved into the decisions we make and why we make them, and it deals with the aftermath of those decisions.

The reader follows Yvonne’s convoluted inner monologue as she goes through all the emotions of having an extramarital affair.  She leaks tiny tidbits here and there about her family life, her children and husband, and her issues with getting older and trying to maintain her confidence.  We learn how she has given her life for her family, put off getting her PhD so her husband can achieve his career goals while she was raising the children, gave her children all that she could so they could be successful, and did it all while still being successful in her career.  Now, the children have grown and gone, becoming occasional visitors with random day passes to the mundane ride that has become their parents’ lives. Her career no longer challenges her. Her body is aging and her confidence is waning in the absence of her once vibrant youth.

She meets a stranger that intrigues her from the millisecond she sees him.  He intrigues her so much that she, a sophisticated and intelligent woman, decides to have sex with him without even knowing his name.   All of this to add excitement to her life, and to feel wanted and needed again after so many years of not experiencing those emotions.

For most of the story, the reader knows nothing about the mystery man she is sleeping with, other than the fact that he is also married, and that the both of them have no intention of disrupting their marriages – they just want to have sex for the fun of it.  What happens after the start of the affair is exciting and passionate, in terms of her experiencing a sexual awakening. What we don’t understand is them having sex in a chapel or in a public restroom. Those are just two places we would never consider, but that’s just us.  Moving on…

Also, we don’t necessarily buy into the speediness of their sexual exploits.  Who has sex with a random stranger without any type of conversation in a professional environment within minutes of meeting that person?  Who walks with that person to a separate location, hidden from view and from anyone else at all, to engage in sexual activity so willingly?  Before anyone begins a rant about how we are victim-shaming, we really want to clear this up: This is not the point in the book we previously mentioned.  She does have consensual sex with him. She does enjoy it. She does continue an affair with this man. Even if this was the place in the book where the horrible scene happened, we would most certainly not condone this behavior or blame her for his violent behavior.  Back to the affair…

Yvonne is so absorbed with her reawakened sexual prowess, and the allure of her mystery man, that she fails to notice she has unintentionally put herself in danger.  She falls victim to a horrific act of violence, and only her lover is privy to what has happened. The scene that left us reeling marks a turning point in the novel and is what makes you slam down on the reading accelerator to figure out where the story is going and why the author is taking you there.  At this point, we can’t reveal too much as it would rob you of the opportunity to be taken on a psychological ride that will leave you with more questions than answers, but it will get you to think and that’s always a good thing.

Apple Tree Yard left a bad taste in our mouths at first, but after probing deeper into the psychological aspects of the story, we understand the direction it took and what Louise Doughty had to do to get there.  What we would prefer is that the novel begin with an affair that is a bit more believable. We just can’t see a strong, smart woman being so careless as to engage in sexual activity with someone she has just met and with which she has not even had a conversation.  We would have preferred that her instant attraction to him allow her to have coffee with him that first day. Then maybe he “runs into her” at a different coffee shop. Maybe he “accidentally” bumps into her on the street. Three casual, but planned run-ins that would further ignite her excitement and lust.

Overall, we give this book 3.5 stars.  Obviously, it wasn’t a favorite, but we can appreciate the underlying psychological aspects of the storyline and the mindset of the characters involved.  Well, most of the characters anyway…

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