Fiction - Kindle edition; Faber and Faber; 358 pages; 2013.
Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard is a dark, smart and sexy psychological-thriller-cum-court-room-drama, full of twists, turns and unexpected shocks. It is arguably the best of the genre I've read this year.
Yvonne Carmichael, 52, is a highly successful geneticist who is happily married with two adult children. But one day, while attending a House of Commons Standing Committee hearing — where she is presenting evidence — she meets a man to whom she is immediately attracted.
They strike up a conversation and he takes her on a lunch-time tour of the crypt, where they end up having sex — and from this one spontaneous and illicit act the rest of Yvonne's steady suburban life spirals out of control.
What follows is a highly charged affair in which Yvonne and her unnamed lover meet in cafes and side streets, sharing little of their lives outside of their new clandestine relationship. In fact, Yvonne is so swept up in the romance of it all that she is convinced that her lover works for British secret services — why else would he be so non-communicative about his normal life?
The structure of this novel is unusual. It starts mid-way through the story arc, when Yvonne is in the dock at the Old Bailey, answering to the charge of murder. What you don't know is who she has murdered and why, nor who her co-conspirator is.
The story backtracks to the beginning of her affair and from there the reader is kept in an almost constant state of tension. The story is exceptionally well plotted and Yvonne's voice — one of constant disbelief that her ordinary dull and predictable life has come to this — is believable. Here's an example of that voice — the reader is addressed as "you" throughout the entire novel:
Then, after a long while, you do something that will endear you to me when I think about it later. You pause. You stop kissing me, withdraw your face, and as I open my eyes I see you are looking into mine. You still have one hand in my hair, your fingers entwined.
Fast-paced and suspenseful
Doughty is very good at moving events along quickly without compromising on detail. Indeed, London — particularly the area around Westminster and Embankment — comes alive in these pages to the point of it being an extra character in its own right.
And she's an expert at dropping in little nuggets of information that add a new twist to the story. Yet nothing feels forced or added on; it all flows naturally and reads effortlessly.
Apple Tree Yard is a very good look at the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions. It's a thoroughly absorbing and intelligent read with a dark edge and bucketloads of suspense — and it's set to be one of my favourite books of 2013.