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13 June 2013

Apple Tree Yard

Note to most of my regular readers: no football  here; be strong; the new season's not far away.

Recently I found a couple of copies of a magazine called Acclaim from 1993. It was the bi-monthly magazine of the Ian St James awards, and the Ian St James awards were an annual short story competition.

Louise Doughty was a previous winner, and she contributed a column to each issue, giving aspiring writers tips on What Makes A Winning Short Story. In effect, I suppose, she was passing on some of what she'd learned while doing the MA in Creative Writing at East Anglia.

Attentive and long-memoried readers of this blog (which narrows it down substantially) will recall that I've written about Louise before. And seeing this photo again has reminded me of what first attracted me to the beautiful Ms Doughty. Yes, I'm shallow, but just look into those deep dark eyes for a while. I may need to throw you a rope ...

And now she has a new novel out, Apple Tree Yard. I've given links below to a couple of reviews, which will give a better idea of the kind of book it is. What a lark it would be to analyse it in terms of Plot and Theme! What is it all about, huh? But it would be pointless. Louise is technically brilliant and the new book manages an intricate timeline with impressive ease. There's an ingenious and selective use of the present historic, which is no gimmick but a studied way of indicating which part of the story we're reading about now, and large parts of the book are written in the second person, addressed to the narrator's lover.

The effect is to make the gradual revelation of what happened more compelling. Although it is easy to guess what will have happened to have brought the narrator, Yvonne, to the predicament she outlines at the start of the book, there's enough uncertainty about what exactly had happened to keep one's interest engaged until the end, or the ends. Because you think you've heard all the story with a few pages to go, and you think you're just reading through a decompression zone, when one further fact is revealed that makes you think again about the whole story. Obviously, I won't say what that is.

As in the previous book, the first person narrative has a prose that sometimes flattens into triteness. But Yvonne's style gets a bit unhinged as the novel goes on, and those final few pages make you reconsider your opinion about what you've read.

There's a suspicion of improbability in the way an apparent plot-hole is plugged up. Again, no spoilers, but it involves police procedure, and the ostensible solution doesn't sound plausible at all. But the depth and detail of Louise's research is apparent throughout the book: it's unlikely this is her mistake, so it must be Yvonne's mistake or mistruth, which again makes you look again at everything she's said.

So, it's a strong recommendation from me. Here are some other views.

Alfred Hickling in the Guardian: "a compelling cautionary tale of what happens when fantasy begins to occlude real life"
Amber Pearson in the Daily Mail:  "A disquieting, perceptive and gripping read."
An interview with Louise on the Faber blog

And you can buy it a local bookshop, eg these nice people The Beckenham Bookshop