“We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves add up.” – Janet Malcolm.
Louise Doughty’s seventh novel, ‘Apple Tree Yard’, exceeded every expectation of conforming to just one or two genres. This twisted tale of love, desire, deceit, crime, passion and outright murder, slipped coolly through one extreme to another, pulling the readers in and out of steamy and sordid exploits to drab, dark and foreboding prison cells.
As someone who confidently calls themselves a crime fanatic or a thriller obsessive, I was a little cautious about first reading ‘Apple Tree Yard’. After hearing, and then swiftly going on to watch myself, the book had been made into a highly-anticipated BBC four-part drama I decided to give it a try. What a decision that was. From first opening the pages of this book to holding on to that final paragraph, this tale has had me hook, line and sinker. I became a slave to the story, constantly thinking it through, continuously clock-watching to see how soon it was until my shift was over so I could march home and absorb the next hundred pages or so.
Told in first person and through flashbacks from the leading protagonist, high-flying geneticist Yvonne Carmichael, we are dropped straight into the scenario that she is in court, being cross-examined intensely by a young barrister, and something has just been revealed that has changed the game, something has just occurred where our leading lady has had the rug pulled from under her feet and her entire world turned upside down. That’s just the prologue. Quickly progressing through the chapters the readers find she has had a successful career as a scientist, with a loving husband and two grown-up children. And although there have been (and continue to be) ups and downs, just as any family, they are close, and they are happy. Doughty makes this story so believable, so real and relatable, that it makes us question our own life choices and the most intimate of relationships.
“The trouble with stories is, they are addictive.”
One of my favourite things about this book is the idea that it is completely and almost subconsciously (until Doughty makes a deliberate point of highlighting it to us) riding on how we tell our own stories. How we make ourselves sound better: more accomplished, more successful, sexier, funnier, more intelligent, whatever it is, we all do it. And so does Yvonne, the last line, the summation of the narrative, proves exactly that point. She is telling us her story, she is showing us what it has meant to be her. Living her life, having her house, her kids, her job, her work, and X. Ah, X. I think we’ve all had someone in our lives who are the equivalent of Yvonne’s X. Maybe not exactly a stranger who likes to have extra-marital sex in public places, but something along those lines, right? As we are taken on this incredibly sexy and uncontrollably steamy affair between these two seemingly normal everyday people, we see Yvonne changing. Her recently sexless marriage has left her romantically redundant, and her children are not children anymore, they’ve flown the nest, they have their own lives, and she now has hers. She has re-invented herself through adultery, and it is suiting her desires more than she anticipated, and to her surprise, she’s good at it. Lying. Secrecy. She has evolved into the next chapter of herself, and it’s good.
“If we are the victims of our own desires, our overwhelming desires, then none of this us our fault, is it? We are free from shame, from guilt. We are innocent.”
Then the worst thing imaginable happens. Her control is taken from her. Cruelly, brutally, sexually. A work colleague violently sexually assaults and rapes her at a staff party. She has been abused, beaten, and violated in a horrific way. And worst of all, she cannot go to the police. She cannot tell them of this crime. She cannot do this because of you. X. Because you and her, earlier that evening, on the way to that party, had intimate, public sex in the doorway of an alleyway called Apple Tree Yard. If Yvonne goes to the police, the forensic evidence they will find will be you.
As the story progresses and the tale unravels, so does Yvonne, and so do we. Doughty creates a character who every single woman can find pieces of herself within. She is entirely relatable, which makes her actions all that more understandable. Without giving too much of this story away, Doughty forces the reader to question their own moral compass, completely dividing and uniting our heads and our hearts through this heartfelt, compelling and extremely honest tale of two people who got so caught up in each other’s stories that they lost sight of their own realities.
“Time has slipped from us like water through our fingers and there is none of it left, not one moment. It’s over.”