Apple Tree Yard arrived on a tide of acclaim, hype and publicity. For the first time ever, I saw people in t-shirts bearing the book cover, handing out samplers of the book to people at train stations, on Piccadilly, everywhere. But then, the last thriller to arrive in such a fashion was The Silent Wife and, well, look how that turned out. So I approached with caution, since the synopsis detailing how in addition to being a thriller, this book is also “an insightful examination of the values we live by and the choices we make” didn’t really fill me with excitement either.
Yvonne Carmichael is fifty-two years old. Married with two grown children, she’s also a respected geneticist. When her work takes her to the Houses of Parliament, a chance meeting with a handsome stranger leads to an intense, sexually driven affair. Entirely out of character for her, Yvonne at first loves the danger, the excitement, the sex. But when events spin out of her control, she finds herself under arrest, with her previously comfortable life in tatters.
That’s not a spoiler, the arrest, since the book opens with Yvonne being cross examined at the Old Bailey. The prologue stops at a crucial juncture and then hauls us back to the beginning. Written in the first person, seemingly as one very long letter to her lover, there is a huge amount of “but this would only be important later” and “we would only realise this after it was too late” foreshadowing, which cranks the tension to a nigh on unbearable degree.
Also, the insightful examination isn’t just into the values and choices. Doughty pierces right to the heart of her main character and creates possibly the most three dimensional protagonist I’ve read this year. Yvonne is a maelstrom of conflicting emotions and she feels absolutely real. It makes reading the journey this affair takes her on all the more engrossing and upsetting.
I was so gripped and entranced by this book that I really felt like I hadn’t breathed for the last 60 pages. And when I exhaled, it was not with relief. Oh no. The last few pages afford Doughty the opportunity to gut punch the reader and when you come to the very end, you’ll be shaken and uncertain. At least, I was. Fuck me, what an absolutely astonishing novel.