The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm

by Tana French


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Named a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 and a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, The New York Times Book Review, Amazon, The Boston Globe, LitHub, Vulture, Slate, Elle, Vox, and Electric Literature

“Tana French’s best and most intricately nuanced novel yet.” —The New York Times

An “extraordinary” (Stephen King) and “mesmerizing” (LA Times) new standalone novel from the master of crime and suspense

From the writer who “inspires cultic devotion in readers” (The New Yorker) and has been called “incandescent” by Stephen King, “absolutely mesmerizing” by Gillian Flynn, and “unputdownable” (People) comes a gripping new novel that turns a crime story inside out.

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life—he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden—and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735224643
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/30/2019
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 8,926
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Tana French is the author of In the WoodsThe LikenessFaithful PlaceBroken Harbor and The Secret Place and The Trespasser. 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. 46 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year ago
Didn’t want it to end...
Anonymous More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year ago
Slow and long. Somewhat predictable and way to descriptive.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year ago
Impossible to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The ending of the book really makes you stop and think. Of course that’s when it all comes to fruition. But the book as a whole takes awhile to really get into things and it drags out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are two parts to thia book. The first half takes forever and the second half ends bfore you realize it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tana French is an accomplished author of the physiological suspense thriller. This book is a stand-alone book that really has you trying to figure out who’s responsible. It has you wondering what someone could be capable of if pushed to their limits, or have had things happen that make them no longer know who they are. I really wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did. Well done! I’m always grateful to the employee at Border’s who many years ago told about this new author and her book - In The Woods. I’ve been following Tana French since that time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The ending was goooood. Tana French's ability to weave a wonderful mystery never ceases to suprise me. It was such a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Perhaps a bit long
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Flows like a gently flowing stream Very smooth, with some spots that speed up in just the right places Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year ago
Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An easy read, slow in places.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year 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 6 months ago
i've loved her books in the past. this was a difficult read. Hard to follow the connection of the main charter to himself, much less maintain an understanding of the nature of the characters to one another. i didn't like the story, couldn't easily follow the plot. i wanted to like it but i didn't.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Toby feels he leads a charmed life. He has a wonderful job, a great apartment, great friends, and the perfect girl. He is a lucky person, and things always work out for him, that is, they always did, until that day. He had just had an incident at work and was able to patch things up. Talk about lucky! He was out celebrating that night with his friends. He celebrated how good life had always been to him. That’s when it happened. That night, the burglars broke into his home, pillaged his apartment, and left him for dead. That’s when everything changed. His recovery was very slow, and he wondered if he would really ever fully recover, be the same man he’d always been, that lucky, quick-witted man. Because he was having trouble relaxing in his apartment after the trauma he had faced there, he decided to stay in the family home with his dying Uncle Hugo. One day during his stay, a skull is discovered on the property of the old family home. This story is a little more of a psychological drama than Tana’ French’s other murder mysteries. There were pages that moved the story forward very slowly and tediously. But the psychological exploration was interesting. What happens to a person when they can no longer define themselves in the way to which they are accustomed? What happens when a person can no longer trust his own judgment or memory? This is a very interesting story.
Anonymous 10 months ago
French should stick to her basic crime novels. This one is just boring.
Xkoqueen More than 1 year ago
Thought Provoking--more than a simple murder mystery! The Witch Elm is not Tana French’s usual police procedural. In this murder mystery, an ancestral home that is filled with happy memories becomes a nightmarish crime scene. The main character and narrator, Toby, likens himself to a cheerful, oblivious Labrador. Problems have always slipped off him as if he is coated in Teflon, but is he lucky enough to get away with murder? The assault that leaves him near dead turns Toby into an unreliable narrator. His faulty memory allows unscrupulous provocateurs to plant seeds of guilt with the police and questions in Toby that fuel his internal turmoil. I found myself teetering back and forth on whether or not I liked this character and whether or not I thought he was the murderer. Which was undoubtedly the author’s intent. After Toby’s introduction and his gruesome attack, Ms. French’s plot slows as she sets up Toby’s post trauma decline and his unstable frame of mind as well as introduces the reader to the rest of her characters. From Toby’s point of view readers meet Toby’s girlfriend, the cheerful and loyal Melissa, his annoyingly concerned parents, affable Uncle Hugo, and the cousins, Susanna and Leon, whom Toby thinks of as pseudo-siblings. The author uses Toby’s now-slow mind to dole out information--in the form of cracked-mirror perceptions and memories-- about the individuals. As red herrings are thrown into the mix, Toby and the reader question him and nearly everyone surrounding him. The Witch Elm is not a fast-paced thriller, but it is compelling. I couldn’t tear myself away from this book. I desperately had to know who was the murderer and how (if) it tied into Toby’s attack. I can’t put my finger on why I felt the ending was not wholly satisfying, but it was probably because I was hoping for a different outcome. After days of thought, it came to me that Toby’s final monologue proves Hugo’s belief that… “One gets into the habit of being oneself. It takes some great upheaval to crack that shell and force us to discover what else might be underneath.” This led to thinking about humanity, integrity, luck, karma, and Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. Read The Witch Elm for family drama and thought-provoking questions of humanity in the face of physical torment and mental anguish.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outstanding look into the lives and minds of what could be any one of us. Beautiful descriptivek language pulls you right into the story line. The reader is trasformed into an observer right in the middle of the plot. Twists and turns take reader by surprise. Excellent author.
Masha001 More than 1 year ago
The beginning was really slow and boring ... I almost gave up when there was some action at which point I continued . Overall not as cool as it seemed. Very long , slow and boring ...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must remember never to read another novel by Tana French, too much boring detail not relevant to the plot, had to force myself to finish this boring book.