50 pages 1 hour read

Tana French

The Witch Elm

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Important Quotes

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“I was anything other than lucky to have the Ivy House. I know it wasn’t that simple, I know all the reasons in intimate, serrated detail; I can lay them out in a neat line, stark and runic as black twigs on snow, and stare at them till I almost convince myself; but all it takes is one whiff of the right smell—jasmine, lapsang souchong, a specific old-fashioned soap that I’ve never been able to identify—or one sideways shaft of afternoon light at a particular angle, and I’m lost, in thrall all over again.”

(Chapter 1, Page 1)

In retrospect, Toby knows he shouldn’t feel lucky after experiencing the two crimes of The Witch Elm, but luck feels like an innate part of his identity. Tana French uses sensory imagery, specifically scents, to bring her characters and setting to life. Here, Toby demonstrates how certain scents (often linked to the trauma of his home invasion) tie to specific memories.

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“Worrying had always seemed to me like a laughable waste of time and energy; so much simpler to go happily about your business and deal with the problem when it arose, if it did, which it mostly didn’t.”

(Chapter 1, Page 13)

Toby’s feelings about worry demonstrate his privilege. As an attractive, healthy, heterosexual white man from a wealthy family, he faces few challenges before being assaulted in his apartment. He never experiences consequences for his actions, giving him the naive impression that life is easy enough to “deal with.”

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“What are you talking about? They could have gone to school. Instead of spending their time sniffing glue and breaking the wing mirrors off cars. They could have got jobs. The recession’s over; there’s no reason for anyone to be stuck in the muck unless they actually choose to be.”

(Chapter 1, Page 19)

Toby demonstrates his lack of empathy for people who experience less privilege than him. He fails to comprehend realities that differ from his own. He doesn’t recognize how little control other people have over their circumstances until he himself loses control to physical and mental injuries.