‘Apple Tree Yard’ by Louise Doughty tells the story of Yvonne Carmichael, a middle-aged geneticist who begins an affair with a man she meets while she is giving evidence to a Select Committee at the Houses of Parliament. It is revealed at the beginning of the book that the affair has been exposed in dramatic circumstances while Yvonne is on trial at the Old Bailey. However, even though it is clear that she is doomed from the beginning, the story behind how she became embroiled in the most serious of crimes and who her lover really is still offers many twists and turns.
Yvonne addresses her story to her former lover whose name isn’t revealed until towards the end of the trial. She is a fascinating narrator and character who is neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable; she is simply human and flawed. Even though Yvonne’s impulsive behaviour initially appears to be incredibly out of character, Doughty gradually makes her situation seem entirely believable as though it is something which could potentially happen to anyone. This doesn’t mean that the reader will necessarily feel sympathetic towards Yvonne throughout – for a supposedly rational person, she sometimes comes across as pretty delusional – but the story is ultimately about the serious consequences of her decisions and the complex and ambiguous reasons which led her to take such a risk in the first place.
It is the second half of the book where the story gets really interesting as this is where the aftermath of the affair becomes very much the focal point of the story. The courtroom drama in particular feels very authentic thanks to Doughty’s thorough research which involved observing a murder trial at the Old Bailey for three weeks. These scenes are genuinely gripping to read, masterfully building towards a shocking climax despite the ultimate outcome having already been revealed. The way that Doughty gradually merges Yvonne’s point of view with the version of events presented in court is very skilfully executed.
‘Apple Tree Yard’ is a chilling and suspenseful read which is perceptively written and very well paced. Highly recommended for those who enjoy reading psychological thrillers.