Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review: "Apple Tree Yard" by Louise Doughty

"When you are a rational human being, with free will and agency, is there any such thing as a point of no return?"

Yvonne Carmichael is a renowned geneticist, well-established in her career. She and her husband Guy, a fellow scientist she met while in college, is loving and comfortable, and they have two adult children. One day, after testifying before a committee of Parliament on a scientific issue, she meets a man. They talk, they walk, her takes her by the arm, and leads her to a little-used chapel in the basement. And Yvonne begins to undress.

The two begin an affair, despite the fact that she doesn't know her lover's name at first, and he has kept most of his life a mystery from her. He is constantly paranoid, worried that Yvonne might say something to someone, or that their relationship might be discovered. Because of his need to control the situation, Yvonne believes her lover must be a spy for the British government, a fact that excites her almost as much as their relationship has. She knows that they can only see each other at certain times, yet she longs for more, longs for the passion he has ignited in her.

As the pair's relationship wanes and intensifies, one night Yvonne finds herself confronting an utterly unexpected danger from another direction. And it is there the course of her life changes, as she suddenly finds herself, along with her lover, on trial for murder. She is prepared to do just as he has always told her, disclose as little about their relationship as possible so the truth will not be discovered. Or will it?

"Relationships are about stories, not truth. Alone, as individuals, we each have our own personal mythologies, the stories we tell in order to make sense of ourselves to ourselves. That generally works fine as long as we stay sane and single, but the minute you enter an intimate relationship with another person there is an automatic dissonance between your story about yourself and his or her story about you."

Apple Tree Yard tells a familiar story, one of love, longing, secrets, and betrayal. Yet in Louise Doughty's hands, the story seems fresh and tremendously interesting, even though you're fairly certain where the plot will go. Yvonne's character is so well drawn, so complex (if not entirely sympathetic), you can truly see how she found herself in the middle of a relationship she never expected, as well as trouble she never imagined. Yvonne never really makes any excuses for her actions, but you understand them, and as the story unfolds you realize that even the most intelligent people have blind spots they're unaware of.

I really enjoyed this book and thought Doughty was an excellent storyteller. It takes a talented writer to make you want to continue reading a story you've seen before, but there are still a good number of twists and turns to keep you thinking. There aren't many books I've read lately with this type of protagonist, and it really worked for me. And it certainly makes you consider your own life, your own relationships, and how a seemingly rational person could be so overtaken by desire and fear.

"Is heartbreak even possible now, I wonder? I'm fifty-two. Anyone my age knows that all things pass. If the transitory nature of our feelings means that true heartbreak is impossible, then where does that leave happiness?"

Give this one a read.

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