Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Apple Tree Yard

Let's get this out of the way, right at the start – Apple Tree Yard is wonderfully written. From its brilliant opening, it held me throughout, and I was completely absorbed by the story. If you haven't read it yet, forget about this post as it may contain some spoilers, and I wouldn't want to lessen your enjoyment of a really good book.
For those of you who have read it, I've no problem with the novel itself, but when I finished it, there was a sense of something not quite right, something missing. For me the issue was simply this: I didn't like Yvonne Carmichael. I didn't particularly like any of the principle characters – nor should I need to in order to enjoy a book – but the more time I spent in Yvonne's head, the more I felt that she wasn't as nice a person as she thought she was.
To be clear, I'm not referring to the horrible crime – and for the record, I was grimly pleased about what happened to Craddock – but rather to Yvonne's thoughts regarding her family.
Perhaps it's because I simply can't empathise with a parent who harbours resentment towards their own children. Although it's beautifully subtle, there's a sense that Yvonne feels somehow unrewarded by her family. She's worked the hardest, sacrificed the most, and put her career second (even though it's apparent that she's reached the top in her field anyway). While the relationship with her husband is more ambiguous, she does appear to have alienated her children – in fact, almost everyone in the story seems able to get along better without her on the scene.
She's not a stupid character – far from it – and she has a good insight into most people she encounters. And yet, when she describes her relationship with her children, there's a selfish undertone in the way she spins certain situations for sympathy.
None of this is a criticism of the book. It's a testament to the writing that I felt I was uncovering things about a real person. And of course, whenever we form opinions of other people, such opinions are subjective.
It simply made me wonder… how important is it that we actively like characters? When I think back over books I've enjoyed the most, there is usually a strong character that I like, or like to hate. Yvonne didn't elicit either feeling.
Perhaps other readers don't need such a particular emotional connection to their characters. Or perhaps it's just that I lack the life experience to appreciate or empathise with a character like Yvonne. In any event, it's something I'll be thinking about in whatever I read next.

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