69. APPLE TREE YARD, BY LOUISE DOUGHTY
Recommended by Antonio. I read the blurb and it said it was about a geneticist on trial for murder and, for some reason, I assumed it would be a science fiction book revolving around the ethics of genetic experimentation. Pretty soon it became obvious that that was not the case... I didn’t dislike this book, but the frustration of my expectations probably influenced my reading.
Synopsis: Yvonne is a successful, renowned scientist, mother of two, and still married to their father. She has a very happy marriage, or as happy as could be expected, but she can’t help but feel attracted to and have an affair with a mysterious stranger who accosts her one day in the street. She forms a fantasized idea of what her lover is, and has to face the consequences of this misconception.
Overall enjoyment: It was OK. There were some very good parts, but there were also some mediocre-to-bad ones. All in all, it was fine.
Plot: It could have been better structured. I’m not sure how it could have been done, maybe with the use of flashbacks... The first and second part of the book are too different, almost disjointed. The first part is just background for the trial on the second part, but this background takes a lot more space than the trial itself so it feels like an anticlimax. And there was SO MUCH stuff that didn’t need to be there, like the detailed descriptions of the legal procedures, and ramblings that didn’t go anywhere and had no effect on the rest of the story. Also, she does reach sometimes... Many essential plot elements aren’t very likely, or at least she hasn’t made the motivation for them clear (or compelling) enough.
Characters: Unlike most of the reviews I’ve read of this book, I had no problem with Yvonne. She lived her life, achieved everything she wanted, in spite of the odds against her, and even managed to be a “good wife” in the patriarchal sense of the word while doing it. My impression was that she simply felt like she was entitled to some fun after all that. *spoiler alert* I don’t think she believed X; she knew very well that he was lying to her, but she wanted her fantasy to be true and decided to believe it anyway. Realistically, she couldn’t have known what consequences this would have. *end of spoiler* Obviously, I liked her characters, and thought they were well made, even if their motivations were a bit funky at times.
World/setting: Not really a major element. Mostly she just tries to show how exposed Yvonne and X are, but it’s really not that important.
Writing style: It was somewhat odd. I liked the narrating voice a lot, she seemed smart, funny, and reasonable, without being all-knowing and perfect. I especially liked how you can catch her self-deception in her subtleties; how you can tell she knows she’s lying to herself but doesn’t want to admit it. And there are some impressively good turns of phrase... But she has this awful quirk of revealing the plot twists a few paragraphs before they happen. She will either tell you outright or kind of prepare you for it, with phrases like “if I had known what was about to happen...” and stealing their punch. It felt like watching a movie with someone whispering spoilers on your ear ten seconds before they happen. It did contribute to making the narration sound like a person telling a story, but it was profoundly irritating. A really bad choice, in my opinion.
Representation: Not much, but there aren’t that many characters concerned in this story.
Political correctness: It is a story about rape culture. It has some really interesting takes on double standards and gender roles. In this sense, it’s very well done, and it really gets the point across.
Up next: The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton