The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm

by Tana French


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735224629
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 2,260
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Tana French is the author of In the WoodsThe LikenessFaithful PlaceBroken Harbor and The Secret Place. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "The Witch Elm"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Tana French.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. The novel opens and closes with Toby telling the reader that he considers himself a lucky person. Do you agree that he is lucky? When he says his luck is part of who he is, what do you think he means?

2. The novel begins with Toby getting caught covering for his coworker Tiernan, who is pretending to be an underprivileged teen artist. Toby is relieved at having dodged serious consequences, and doesn’t think his lie was particularly important. How did you feel when you first encountered Toby at the beginning of the novel? As the story progressed, did he absorb the significance of his lie?

3. Rather than focusing purely on who committed the crime, much of The Witch Elm examines how many people’s actions contributed to Dominic’s death. When you finished the novel, how did you feel about these questions of culpability? Did you see Toby as a victim, an accessory, or something more complicated?

4. For most of the novel, Toby stands by his belief that he’s a good person. But then Susanna and Leon tell him about their struggles with Dominic in high school, and about how Toby failed to help them. Did their stories change your opinion of Toby? Do you agree with Susanna and Leon that his obliviousness carried a certain amount of culpability?

5. Melissa sticks by Toby throughout most of the investigation, and only leaves after the drunken evening when Toby tries to trick Savannah and Leon into confessing. In your opinion, what about that conversation was the final straw for her?

6. Throughout the novel, Toby’s uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer. How does Hugo’s deterioration fit thematically with Toby’s own struggles with his mind?

7. Once the string from Toby’s hoodie is found inside of the tree, he becomes afraid that he was involved in Dominic’s death. Why do you think he suspects himself so quickly?

8. After the attack in his apartment, Toby notices that his mental capacities are impaired. He believes himself to be unreliable. How reliable a narrator did you find Toby? How did that affect the novel?

9. While Toby repeats how much he loves Melissa, he often hides things from her, including his physical and mental health problems and his fears about his role in Dominic’s murder. Why do you think he does not tell her the full truth? Is he protecting her, protecting himself, or underestimating her?

10. Susanna states that Dominic’s harassment drove her to murder. Do you believe her reasoning? Do you have sympathy for Susanna?

11. Hugo turns himself in for Dominic’s murder. Both Toby and Rafferty think Hugo was protecting Toby. Susanna believes Hugo was oblivious to her actions during the summer Dominic was killed. Do you think Hugo knew more than he let on? Was he protecting Toby, or Susanna and Leon?

12. This novel is set in and around Dublin. How does the Irish setting contribute to the novel? Would the characters have different choices to make if the novel were set in America?

Customer Reviews

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The Witch Elm 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
After reading the reviews thought I would like this book. I did appreciate the plot , but there was just too much descriptive narration and excessive conversation. Just her writing stile I guess. It is my first book by this author and I will not purchase another.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Didn’t want it to end...
Anonymous 8 months ago
Impossible to put down.
Anonymous 7 months ago
This mystery contains a masterful character study -- the main character Toby and all the supporting charactets are original and well-defined. Uncle Hugo is a gem of a character--Dickensian in some ways. The parents, cousins, friends & relatives & detectives are all interesting & significant. Loved the setting of the Ivy House, its garden, and its towering wych tree. Tana French ties together the pieces of the plot vety well and keeps you engaged in revelations to the end.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Flows like a gently flowing stream Very smooth, with some spots that speed up in just the right places Great read.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Loved it.
Anonymous 6 months ago
An easy read, slow in places.
Anonymous 7 months ago
reviews had been poor, so started out braced for a disappointment...initially thought language was stilte, but either author relaxed or I was interesting all along but really became Frenchesque with the tree...a great study ino the human psyche and rich character development...will have to think about the concluding comments at length..deep...may only be meaningful to the author (which could be a fatal flaw)...or may not think about it at all and just chalk it up as a great read!
Anonymous 7 months ago
Tana French books are always smart and fresh. French has a way of bringing the reader on an amazing ride. I love her ability to make characters, conversations and environments seem real. I can't comment on the story itself (too easy to ruin a psychological thriller by doing so), but where does she come up with her plots -- they are never as simple as they seem at first glance.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Rather wordy but all of the conversations and thoughts develope the charactors indepth. I had to slow my reading down to let all the twists and turns sink in. Male privledge, family dynamics, brain injury and good versus bad mentality all make for a great who dunit story.
Anonymous 8 days ago
I've read all of Tana French's books and am a fan of her quirky style and enjoy having to suspend my disbelief to follow her plots because they usually take me somewhere interesting with characters I want to learn more about. Unfortunately this one did not get there, plot lacked the usual interesting twists and turns and found myself not interested in the characters. Too many stretches of long dialog that seem to lead nowhere.
Anonymous 18 days ago
Slow and long. Somewhat predictable and way to descriptive.
Anonymous 19 days ago
Perhaps a bit long
Pegliss 27 days ago
Disappointing—French’s Dublin mysteries are favorites of mine, but this doesn’t hold a candle to her Dublin series. Toby’s an interesting character, dealing with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges after the break-in. But his upper crust sensibilities and self-centeredness wear thin, especially through the pages and pages where nothing happens. His cousins seem scurrilous and Uncle Hugo a tad odd—making me suspicious early on. There are flashes of drama and eventually a mystery, but readers must endure endless descriptions and thought processes before the climax and conclusion.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Anonymous 4 months ago
This book had pages and pages of overly descriptive conversation that caused the book to be somewhat boring for me. I did not like most of the characters which is probably why I did not care for the book. The last chapter of the book seemed somewhat rushed. The author goes on for pages in what seems useless conversation but ties up the lose ends in just a few pages. Overall, I would not recommend and regret that I paid so much for the book.
bbb57 4 months ago
I wish that I could get my $14.99 back. I am not going to waste a lot of time saying this book was just plain TERRIBLE!
Anonymous 4 months ago
A superb critique of social class and the male ego, French takes us on a journey into the male psyche as Toby suffers a burglary and then goes home to his child
Anonymous 4 months ago
Interesting story, but the first part of the book was way too wordy. It seemed to take forever to get to the real meat of the story. I prefer my books to be filled with action rather than heavy prose,
Anonymous 5 months ago
Anonymous 5 months ago
This is my fourth time trying to read this novel. I wish I hadn’t bought it, but I was so excited to read her new book. I get to a certain point and realize I’m bored to death. I think I’ll archive it and wait until I have absolutely nothing else to do.
bonnieCA 5 months ago
I was on the edge of my seat. Oh, the cousins! I just love Tana French's writing; her characters are so real and relatable that I just lose myself in the book. I did not expect that ending!
Anonymous 5 months ago
Anonymous 6 months ago
jnmegan 6 months ago
Self-involved, narcissistic and oblivious Toby Hennessy receives a harsh come-uppance in Tana French’s newest novel, The Witch Elm. This first-person narrative allows the reader to witness Toby’s transformation from an entitled jokester to a man shaken by events that cause him to question his morality and potential for cruelty. Toby works in PR at an art gallery when he is not out drinking with his friends or cuddled up with his wonderfully perfect and adoring girlfriend. After a typical night at the pub, Toby is awakened to the sound of strangers in his flat. When he surprises the burglars, Toby gets beaten so badly that he sustains a traumatic head injury that leaves him severely impaired. His recovery leaves him ashamed of his new limitations, and he soon sinks into a drug-hazed depression. His cousin suggests that Toby could use his medical leave to help their uncle, who is dying of cancer. Toby accedes to the plan when his girlfriend agrees to accompany him to his Uncle Hugh’s house, a long-time family estate and the location of many childhood memories. Toby struggles to manage his physical and mental difficulties but finds comfort in a new routine in the familiar surroundings. Their peace doesn’t last long, however. A skull is discovered in a tree on the grounds during a family meeting, leading to a disruptive and extensive police investigation. The evidence points to a potential murder that must have occurred during Toby’s adolescence, and he and other family members become the main suspects. Toby tries to do a bit of sleuthing, but his inquiries reveal some disturbing things about himself that he may have never realized or just can’t remember. Toby begins to distrust his family and his version of past events, leading him to question motives and suspect shared secrets. Tana French has an amazing ability to construct complete characters, making them so familiar with all their flaws and foibles. It is a testament to her talent that she can portray such an unlikeable character that believably evolves through her storytelling to become sympathetic. Much more than just an imaginative and well-plotted mystery, The Witch Elm is a study in the delusions brought about by privilege and entitlement. The author explores the theme of luck-by birth or circumstance-and whether experiences and/or nature allow certain people to avoid difficulties that would plague others. She addresses how small choices and purposeful ignorance can lead to a crisis of self. Fans of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series will be delighted to see her talents sustained and expanded in this exceptional standalone addition to her work.