The Witch Elm

A Novel
Narrated by: Paul Nugent
Length: 22 hrs and 7 mins
4 out of 5 stars (6,871 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 stand-alone novel from the master of crime and suspense and author of the forthcoming novel The Searcher

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.

©2018 Tana French (P)2018 Penguin Audio

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Editorial Reviews

A satisfying slow burn
I'm a huge fan of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, so I was more than excited for her first-ever stand-alone novel, The Witch Elm. What it shares with her other books is that knack she has for creating an amazing sense of place: always modern-era Ireland, but so much more precise than just that. Narrator Paul Nugent is new to me, but he’s quickly become a favorite. He gives a very clear picture of the book’s central character, Toby—a 20-something year old who (up until now) seems to have been blessed with good luck in all things. When something terrible happens to him, this completely likable-enough guy goes through physical and emotional challenges, to say the least. As he recovers from his own trauma, he finds himself back at the old family compound, Ivy House, to care for his ailing uncle. True to form, French turns Ivy House into a character in and of itself. It’s not your typical haunted house, but is equally as unnerving, especially after a skull is discovered hidden in the hollow of a witch elm in the backyard. Toby’s former sense of ease in life has been obliterated, and now he must confront the fact that he may have had it all wrong his entire (privileged) life. —Tricia F., Audible Editor


I waited obsessively for Tana French's new standalone novel to arrive, so when it finally did it felt like a luxury to linger so long in its unsettling world. It's an absorbing, intricate mystery about a young man whose happy-go-lucky worldview is upended by a devastating attack. Left with holes in his memories and physical challenges, he must reckon with his past when a skull turns up in a tree on his uncle's estate. The combination of luminous narration and prose is magic—and, no spoilers, but take a listen and hear why The Cut called it eerily prescient about the current cultural conversation. —Kat J., Audible Editor

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Anti climactic

I love the writing, however the storyline was drawn out till I lost interest at points.
The interconnected relationships were interesting, but took too long to develop.
The feeling of suspense was lost in the feeling of slogging through the never ending conversations amongst the siblings that were supposed to reveal something.
Found myself walking out of the room and not hitting the pause button and finding that I hadn’t really missed anything because they were still going on about Leon’s this or Suzanna’s whatever hang up ... enough! I got it! I wanted to move on!

76 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Yes, the Main Character Comes Off Poorly, But...

I still really enjoyed this book. I think the best part was it didn't end when I expected it too. Typical thrillers end when the "case" is solved and the story explained, I loved that this kept going to the true end. The detective characters were pretty hokey, which is pretty much Tana French's usual style, but it was a nice departure that they weren't the main focus of the story. I thought the narrator did a great job of pulling the listener into the story and the mood. I definitely found my emotions being affected by parts of the story, whether it be a sense of nervousness or my heart beating faster, which I always think is the mark of a good narrator. Tana was able to keep things fairly believable (I didn't find myself rolling my eyes too much) and created a great story line with interesting characters with the right amount of back story to create depth without drowning us in useless detail. Overall I thought it was a worthwhile listen with a compelling story. No regrets here!

87 people found this helpful

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plot hole theater

The real-life story of the body found in that Witch Elm with a severed hand nearby that Tana French borrowed from is riveting. Google "Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?" to read about it. This book, however, is a head-scratcher. There isn't one believable character in it--no one acts or reacts like anyone would in real life. The plot (is there a plot?) is slow and disjointed, featuring bizarre unrealistic event heaped upon bizarre unrealistic event duct-taped together with shoddy continuity. Characters drop out and/or show up with little or no explanation or reason. The scenes intended to be most dramatic made me laugh because of the giant plot conveniences driven by the author; the characters' motivations for doing most of what they do are unimaginable. Toby, Melissa, Susannah, Leon, Shawn, Hugo, and just about every character in this book are chess pieces being moved around artlessly to bring their fragmented, preposterous, mean-spirited, lazy plotlines to a close. I have read her other books and enjoyed them. They're not exactly high-brow literary fiction, but they're not pretending to be--and they're fun and entertaining and clever on several fronts. But The Witch Elm just leaves me wondering, why? What's the point?

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

is it just me?

is it just me or were the chapters out of order? my book ended on chapter 9 and started on chapter 10. WTF. I kept thinking that the book was wrapping up but there were an awful lot of chapters left, now I know why!
check to make sure your chapters are in order before you start listening!
if your copy starts with police talking to Toby, stop and go to chapter 10!!!

47 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Wow!

Wow, Tana French couldn’t have timed this book any better. I don’t want to give anything up...but what happens when a privileged frat boy type starts to lose some of the privilege he has enjoyed?

I have hundreds of books in my audible library— I probably listen to 3-4 a week. This is in the top 5. Fabulous narration too.

145 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Skip this one by French

Not sure what else to say except the main character in this book is unbearable. It took every fiber of my being to finish this listen. Honestly, I have loved all of her previous books but this is a very big disappointment. I wanted the main character to die or get arrested within the first hour just to make it end. If you're looking for 20 hours of audible torture, I recommend buying this title.

99 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Atmospheric

What I love most about Tana French's style is the immersion into the mind of the person telling the story. No matter how flawed their thinking, how irrational their fears, the interpretations of their observations, whether you like them or not, agree with them or not - you are along for their ride. This book is no exception. In addition, the layering of intrigue and the expertly woven tendrils of the story created a very lush, moody and original story.

I will add, as much as the immersion into French's written character, I felt that Paul Nugent did an exceptional job. He has a mesmerizing and clear tone. He simply sounded the part of a young, privileged, slightly arrogant yet affable, "guy" - with a tremendous amount on his mind (and that seems rather unfamiliar and uncomfortable for him). Rather than acting the other characters, it felt as though his character, Toby, was doing his personal interpretation of them. It always felt skewed to how his own character perceived the others. I appreciated his pace - which was often slow and lilting - but so was the stream of consciousness, so it really accentuated that for me. It helped to stretch the real time of events and breathed life into the scenes.

It is not your standard whodunit and those looking for a tidy ending may be wanting. I enjoyed the departure from French's professional detective to one who seldom questioned anything and is now seeking ultimate answers.

23 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Yawn

Such a promising premise.
But
It was pointless , meandering, and slow.
Narrator did a great job , though.

71 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Eagerly awaited this book coming out. But...

...it really wasn't that good. It's punishingly long. Could easily have had been a third shorter (if not cut in half).

The narrator is ok, no more and the way he voices the girlfriend makes her sound like a complete idiot, which she patently isn't, simply a pleasant human in a book with few of them.

The overall arch of the story is not one of French's best. Having recently read The Secret Place and been disappointed with that as well, I think I'm done with French for a long time. A shame as I loved her early crime novels. Perhaps she's switched editors, as her books now seem to ramble on interminably. A sense of place is good, chapters and chapters were nothing much happens, not so much.

Avoid unless you're an superfan is my suggestions.

52 people found this helpful

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Long, depressing, unlikeable protagonist.

Not a good Tana French book. Pre-ordered it based on her past very good novels. Should have skipped it...

63 people found this helpful