I first heard about Apple Tree Yard at a book club meeting. Someone described sitting up all night to finish it. That persuaded me to buy a copy. Then, before I had time to read it, BBC televised the story. Sometimes when that happens, it spoils a book. On this occasion, however, I enjoyed the TV series and felt it didn’t take away from the pleasure of reading Louise Doughty’s tightly crafted tale.
Apple Tree Yard is a story about a middle aged scientist who embarks on a risky affair. Yvonne Carmichael is married with two adult children. She works mostly from home. A geneticist, she sells her expertise as a consultant and is also an external examiner for postgrad students.
“… was it a kind of addiction, to the story, to the drama of what we were doing?”
Yvonne is respected, successful, grounded and has a comfortable life. Yet somehow she impulsively trades all this for excitement.
Then, having begun a risky affair, she persists — seeing what she want to see where the reader, perhaps sees something else.
“Our interior lives may be wildly different from how we are perceived but how can we expect other people to understand that?”
The story is told from Yvonne’s point of view. Everyone else is seen through her eyes but Louise Doughty uses Yvonne’s observations to allow readers draw their own conclusions about the other characters.
Yvonne understands the gap between her reasons for her actions and how others perceive them. She justifies herself to herself. Because readers see her thought processes, they get to know her well. They may not like Yvonne but she’s interesting enough to keep turning the pages to the end.
Ultimately her story is about lies and self delusion — how ordinary people construct stories to rationalise their own behaviour to themselves. And how those rationalisations often fail to stand up to public scrutiny.
“My actions, and the actions that were done to me — they had replaced me. I am not what I did, I wanted to say to them, or what was done to me: but as far as other people are concerned, we are indeed the sum of our actions and the things that act upon us.”