I can officially say with utmost certainly that THE WITCH ELM, Tana French’s latest gem of a novel, was one hundred percent worth the (painfully long) two year wait. (Let the 2 year countdown to her next book release begin… it’s possible I’ve started to reread her other books as a coping mechanism). She already solidified her place on my “all time favorite authors” list with the Dublin Murder Squad series, but her first stand-alone ensures that she’s never leaving it. I loved every word of the 528 pages.  Rambling comes second nature to me, particularly when it comes to the books that I love, so as a preventative measure I’m going to break down my love of THE WITCH ELM, and by extension, Tana French. for you in list form.   REASONS WHY I LOVE (/ AM SLIGHTLY OBSESSED WITH)  THE WITCH   ELM  & TANA FRENCH:    1)  This isn’t a spoiler (I don’t think) but the book starts and ends in a very similar, not to mention super cool, fashion, with Toby Hennessy (the novel’s protagonist / narrator) meditating on the concept of “luck” and how it relates to his identity. First sentence of first paragraph: “I’ve always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person.” First sentence of last paragraph: “Maybe this is why I still consider myself a lucky person: now more than ever, I can’t afford not to.” (And I’m going to guess that you are so intrigued as to why he considers himself lucky at this point that you can’t afford not to head to your local independent bookstore to pick this bad boy up, but I digress). Struggling with identity is a huge theme explored in THE WITCH ELM. More specifically, the concept of there being one particular driving trait within you that has always existed, but might not be acknowledged or made obvious until it is awakened by particular events in your life, and without it you would lose a sense of who you are (if that makes sense?). Thus far the list idea doesn’t seem to be helping much with the rambling, my apologies.   2)  Tana French is not like a regular crime novelist, she’s a cool crime novelist. But seriously… the focus of her novels is very different than what I’ve come to expect from writers of the genre. Her [pretty] prose is just as important, if not more important than the pace of plotting (I say this so much but it genuinely reads like literary fiction), and the same can be said regarding the importance of the development of her characters versus the crime(s). I’ll let a passage speak for itself: “And yet; and yet. It matters; matters, as far as I can see — for whatever that’s worth, at this point — more than anything. It taken me this long to start thinking about what luck can be, how smoothly and deliciously deceptive, how relentlessly twisted and knotted in on its own hidden places, and how lethal.” (If you hadn’t noticed, luck is also a theme that pervades the pages of this beautifully written book). French’s characters are so well developed that it is truly hard to let them go… they feel so real with all their quirks and complexities and flaws. There are moments when you absolutely love them and others when you might even detest them (Toby is definitely a character with some detestable moments), but in the end you walk away with new favorites… ones that stay with you, warming your heart with the memory of them even years later.   3)  THE DIALOGUE. French is the queen of authentic dialogue (poorly written dialogue is a serious deal-breaker for me) and writing in vernacular. I have an affinity for U.K. set crime fiction in general, but with French I actually feel like I have taken up residence in Ireland… I love the experience of actually hearing the Irish accents in my head, but it is a book hangover waiting to happen… extremely difficult to leave the world French creates in her novels.  E.g. of a scene when I can’t help but hear the Irish accents in my head:  “‘Any hassle with the neighbors? Arguments over parking spaces, someone who thinks you play your stereo too loud?’  ‘Not that I can think of. I don’t really see my neighbors.’  ‘That’s the best kind. See this fella here?’ To Flashy Suit: ‘Tell him about your man and the lawn mower.’  ‘Jesus,’ said Flashy Suit, raising his eyes to the ceiling. ‘ My old neighbor, yeah? I’d always cut my grass on a Saturday — at  noon,  like; not even early. Only your man next door, he liked to sleep in. He gave me some grief about it, I told him to buy earplugs. So he  recorded  me cutting the grass and played it up against the bedroom wall, all night long.’”  See what I mean?? Can’t get enough.   4)  The pace of the book is slower (and more beautiful) than many crime fiction books, but nonetheless, the suspense starts building from page one and keeps you hanging off the edge of your seat until you turn the final page. From the first chapter you are anticipating events to happen… a lot of the time you have an idea of what it is you are anticipating, but the not knowing when it is going to happen and the lack of details you are provided with in the meantime is another exemplification of both French’s originality and brilliance in suspense writing. One really cool way she achieves this is through the detectives in the novel (there are a total of four, two for each crime of the novel, and yes, they possess a lot of the same characterizations and sense of humors of the DMS detectives). The detectives called out for the second crime of the novel keep Toby and his relatives in the dark for quite a while concerning the discoveries connected with what is found near and in the wych elm tree at Ivy House. Even when they are told more details, they still aren’t privy to the detectives thoughts and hypotheses regarding the crime. Being in Toby’s head, I was able to vicariously experience the building suspense and heightened emotions of being left in the dark. Beyond feelings of suspense, French evokes another type of tension that yet again sets her apart as a crime writer and stems from the concept of reality, another theme heavily explored in the novel. Toby’s past and present almost become an unreality throughout the novel, as much of what he thinks he knows about his life is turned on its heads, bringing on feelings of extreme self-doubt.  Now that I’ve pretty much written a novel here myself (and expressed a wish to my roommate of one day having the opportunity to write an academic essay on French)… I am going to stop rambling, but bottomline: GET YOUR HANDS ON A TANA FRENCH BOOK ASAP as possible (channeling Michael Scott)… doesn’t matter if you start with THE WITCH ELM (though that might be a good idea, as it is brilliant and a stand-alone), IN THE WOODS (book one in the DMS series), or if you close your eyes and randomly choose a book from the DMS series… I guarantee you will fall in love with her prose, characters, perfect balancing of elements of psychological thrillers / police procedurals, etc. and find yourself raving about her books, much like I am doing now.  (Please let me know when you do read one so we can rave together, albeit in a bookish fashion… featuring big sweaters and even bigger Irish coffees because, fall.)
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