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2019 Monthly Challenge > April Group Read Discussion: The Witch Elm

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message 1: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Discussion is open for the April group read - The Witch Elm. Your discussion leader is Kali!

Please use spoiler tags if you are sharing any plot related surprises. Just type < spoiler > to start the spoiler and < / spoiler > to end the spoiler (remove the spaces for the html tag to work).

Posts should be exclusively about this book.

When you've finished, be sure to post in the "April Challenge: I Finished!" thread.


message 2: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Hi everyone! This is my first time leading a Goodreads discussion but I love talking about books, so I am looking forward to it.

While everyone is getting started reading, I would like to kick off with a general question:

What made you pick up this book?

I read the book prior to the challenge and decided to read it after seeing positive Goodreads reviews from a couple of friends. I have not read Tana French’s other books but the plot sounded like something I would enjoy.


message 3: by Milena (new)

Milena (milenas) | 810 comments What made you pick up this book?

I also read this book at the very end of last year, after I was done with all 2018 challenges. I picked it because I love Tana French, and have read all her previous books as they have come out.


message 4: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
I read the book because I love Tana French. Normally I would quit a book that starts this slow, but I stuck with it because I trust the author, and it was worth it (although I have seen reviews that indicate it wasn't worth it for all).


message 5: by Soph ♡ (new)

Soph ♡ (anovelcompanion) | 130 comments What made me pick up this book?

I started to read this book today purely because it was April's book of the month. I originally had another book planned for this months prompt but when the poll results came back I decided to go into this book blind. After all, this is what the Popsugar Challenge is about for me; discovering and reading something I wouldn't otherwise consider.


message 6: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Soph ♛ wrote: "After all, this is what the Popsugar Challenge is about for me; discovering and reading something I wouldn't otherwise consider. "

Yes! That is what I like best about the challenge, too - pushing myself to read things outside of what I might come across on my own.


message 7: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (dg_reads) | 83 comments I was just able to pick the book up from the library, so looking forward to reading along. I picked this book up solely because the group selected it, so I'm going into it blind, but I'm looking forward to it!


message 8: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 109 comments Soph ♛ wrote: "What made me pick up this book?

I started to read this book today purely because it was April's book of the month. I originally had another book planned for this months prompt but when the poll re..."


This would be exactly why I’m reading the book also. I will admit though that I’m glad to read the above people who say the story picks up though!


message 9: by Pat (new)

Pat | 6 comments Had this book on reserve at the library and it just became available. Great timing! I'm glad to hear that the story picks up as it goes along.


message 10: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 543 comments I put this on my to read list when it came out as I have read In the Woods and enjoyed it. I was able to get my hands on a library copy and figured I would join in with a group read. So far I'm only about 20 pages in- his night out is just ending.


message 11: by Cari (new)

Cari Piatt | 15 comments So I picked it up just for this group. I would normally have put it away it kept at it and I honestly regret wasting the time reading it. I have never read a tana French and now I don’t know if I want to read another. Are they all this slow? 200 pages before you even get to the main mystery?!?


message 12: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Cari wrote: "So I picked it up just for this group. I would normally have put it away it kept at it and I honestly regret wasting the time reading it. I have never read a tana French and now I don’t know if I w..."

I haven't read her other books either but based on what I have seen in reviews this one has a different feel from her other books.

Personally, I read a lot of novels about families and the first part of the book felt like that to me, so I didn't mind it. But I can understand if you were going in expecting a fast-paced mystery that it would be hard to get through that first section.


message 13: by Rachelnyc (last edited Apr 04, 2019 01:58PM) (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments In answer to the discussion question, this was a spontaneous decision for me to pick up the book when I saw it was the group read this month and I (surprisingly) didn't have anything specific lined up for my next read. It was already on my TBR though since I have heard good things about the author and book.

I am only two chapters in but I'm glad some others found it slow to start but that it's worth it since I am finding it slow so far. I am definitely intrigued enough to keep going though!


message 14: by Teri (new)

Teri (teria) | 1086 comments I just picked it up from the library and will start reading it tonight. I'm reading it solely for the group read. I've never read Tana French and until I just read the above comments I had no idea what this book is even about.


message 15: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments I'm curious about folks' perceptions of Toby in the early sections of the book. Do you like him? Do you find him to be a reliable narrator?

Remember that folks may just be getting started with this book, so please remember to use spoiler tags if you're going to talk about any plot points!


message 16: by Milena (new)

Milena (milenas) | 810 comments (view spoiler)


message 17: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Oh I completely despised Toby in the beginning. I used many bad words in my head while reading.


message 18: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments Kali wrote: "I'm curious about folks' perceptions of Toby in the early sections of the book. Do you like him? Do you find him to be a reliable narrator?

Remember that folks may just be getting started with thi..."


I am only 3 chapters in and I don't particularly like him but I don't dislike him either. He is a bit obnoxious but basically comes across as a normal guy that I could have been friends with in high school or university.

I don't know if it's just me but I'm irrationally irritated that he is not doing anything to help ensure that he heals properly and noone around him seems to notice. I know he has kept primarily to himself but I can't imagine that his girlfriend didn't notice and wouldn't push him to go to the physical therapist or to go back to the neurologist for follow-ups.

Anyway, I don't know if this will be relevant or not but it is really annoying that he keeps acting like he's worried that people will notice or seems worried he won't heal but is doing nothing about it.


message 19: by Megan (last edited Apr 07, 2019 10:45AM) (new)

Megan | 299 comments What made you pick up this book?

Tana French is one of my favorite authors, so I was eager to read her first stand-alone. I've read all of the other novels she's written and always place new books by her at the top of my TBR wish list. I love the psychological aspects woven into all of her novels and how she develops the plot lines.

Even though this was a stand-alone, I thought it would fit into her Dublin Murder Squad series world very well -- the difference being it is told from the non-police perspective.

If you're new to Tana French, I probably wouldn't recommend this as the entry point since the pacing might turn some readers off. I'd suggest starting with the series first (it does not need to be read in order; they're kind of stand-alone novels linked by the fact they feature a different murder squad detective) since you'll likely have more patience with the more deliberate pacing of this one if you're already hooked on her work.


message 20: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Rachelnyc wrote: "Anyway, I don't know if this will be relevant or not but it is really annoying that he keeps acting like he's worried that people will notice or seems worried he won't heal but is doing nothing about it. ..."


You're right, he wasted a lot of mental energy worrying about that, and even did some stupid things to try to keep up a good front, but he never really did anything smart like physical therapy.


message 21: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Milena wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

That's funny, because as we got to know him better, I liked him more, even though (view spoiler). French really did a great job IMO of letting us see his POV and making him a sympathetic character even though (view spoiler).


message 22: by Patricia (new)

Patricia | 47 comments I just started this book, and so far I am enjoying it. Although I can see where people would see it was a slow start because whatever mystery is going to happen STILL hasn't happened yet. However, I am enjoying the characters and dialogue. I especially some of the different words and expressions used since it is Irish.


message 23: by Jess (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments I was waiting for this to come back to the library but it went back out straight away (we have to pay for holds so I usually just try to chance it). So I've bitten the bullet and spent my audible credit on it. I'm currently two chapters in. I'm going to have to really plan out when to listen to it as the chapters are mostly over and hour long and there are no obvious breaks in the audio version.

I have previously read two Tana French books In the Woods and The Likeness. Contrary to popular opinion I preferred the latter which was slower paced and more character focus so I feel like I'm really going to like this book too as it has a similar feel to it. I prefer slow building mysteries because I want to get to know the characters first.

Interestingly this is the second group read where the UK edition has a different name to the US edition (after Evelyn Hardcastle and her extra half death!) . I prefer The Wych Elm because the older word has a more mystical feel to it.


message 24: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Monkiecat wrote: I spent the first few chapters really wishing I could bitch-slap the dumb out of him"

Haha, this is about how I felt at the beginning of the book. I found him very frustrating.


message 25: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Jess wrote: "Interestingly this is the second group read where the UK edition has a different name to the US edition (after Evelyn Hardcastle and her extra half death!) . I prefer The Wych Elm because the older word has a more mystical feel to it."

That's interesting! I wondered while reading the book why the tree was referred to in the text as a wych elm but the title was Witch Elm. I like the Wych Elm spelling better as well.


message 26: by Nadine (last edited Apr 08, 2019 04:52AM) (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Jess wrote: "Interestingly this is the second group read where the UK edition has a different name to the US edition (after Evelyn Hardcastle and her extra half death!) . I prefer The Wych Elm because the older word has a more mystical feel to it.
..."



Isn't it just a spelling difference, like colour or color?

By the way, it's called a Wych/Witch Elm because it's very bendy, just like Witch Hazel (or Wych Hazel, if you wish). "wych" and "wicker" and "weak" are all from the same root word. The branches soft like willow, and grow crooked. There's no witch involved ;-)


How do you spell witch hazel in England? Is it "wych-hazel"?


message 27: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments I wondered about the wych vs. witch as well. I thought it was a bit odd that they went through the effort to release it as The Witch Elm in the US but kept the spelling of wych throughout the book.


message 28: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer (steelcityfox) | 1 comments so, I've already read something for the 'book with a plant on its cover' prompt, but this sounds super interesting. for those who have already read it and have an idea of the content, do you think it fits any other prompts for this year?


message 29: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Best fit would be "about a family."

Other possibilities: you might think it would make a good movie, and I'm sure it fits a past Challenge category because there's always one.

Other categories that are a stretch: You could choose to ignore "The" and call it a two word title, or you could say it's based on a true story (view spoiler)


message 30: by Cori (new)

Cori Hahnel | 1 comments I read this one for a book recommended by a celebrity you admire (recommended by Stephen King)


message 31: by Errlee (new)

Errlee | 131 comments I finished this last night and I really liked it - I'm a big fan of hers and have read all of her books so had this on hold at the library since forever - luckily it came in just in time for the monthly read. Funny, but I didn't find it slow at all and got through it in two days, and I'm not usually a super fast reader - I just found it completely compelling - both the characters and the mystery - stayed up way too late reading it! Will be keen to see what more people think as they get through it.


message 32: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments I'm deep into the book now and really enjoying it after the slow start. I really like French's writing style and the fact that the characters and dialogue are so realistic.

This is pure speculation and I'm probably completely off but I'll spoiler this anyway. (view spoiler) I am going to try to finish in the next couple of days because I'm quite curious now to see how it ends.


message 33: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments I hope folks are enjoying the book so far!

I thought Toby's relationship with Melissa would be worth dissecting a bit. He talks often about how good she is and how she's the best thing in his life. But he struggles to be honest and open with her (view spoiler).

The way Toby presents her I felt like he doesn't really see her as a whole person (view spoiler).


message 34: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Monkiecat wrote: "I agree completely, though (view spoiler)


Yes, it felt very abrupt!


message 35: by Solenn (new)

Solenn | 20 comments So book just arrived for me so going to get stuck in. I chose it partly because it was the book of the month so wanted to join the challenge but also because I love her Dublin murder squad books. I live in Dublin so like the local touch to them. I know this is a standalone book. My copy is spelt Wych..


message 36: by Nadine (last edited Apr 11, 2019 05:03AM) (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Kali wrote: "I hope folks are enjoying the book so far!

I thought Toby's relationship with Melissa would be worth dissecting a bit. He talks often about how good she is and how she's the best thing in his life..."


I thought Melissa was the weakest part of this book, because I never really understood their relationship, and I never felt like I knew her. But I agree with your assessment. Maybe I never knew who she really was because Toby never knew who she really was.

And yes, things did feel abrupt!! But again, I think that's because Toby was just oblivious - (view spoiler)


message 37: by Megan (new)

Megan | 299 comments Kali wrote: "I hope folks are enjoying the book so far!

I thought Toby's relationship with Melissa would be worth dissecting a bit. He talks often about how good she is and how she's the best thing in his life..."


I felt like (view spoiler)


message 38: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments Despite some flaws and a very slow start, I ended up liking this book. I enjoyed the writing style, particularly how realistic the characters and dialogue were.

I think it's a mistake to market this as a mystery thriller though since (view spoiler)

I agree with a lot that's already been said about the relationship with Toby and Melissa. (view spoiler)


message 39: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Rachelnyc wrote: "... I think it's a mistake to market this as a mystery thriller though ..."


I definitely agree!! This was psychological, but not a thriller, and I think that's why some people are disappointed, they are expecting something it's not. The mystery was just something else that happened in Toby's life.


message 40: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments Nadine wrote: "Rachelnyc wrote: "... I think it's a mistake to market this as a mystery thriller though ..."


I definitely agree!! This was psychological, but not a thriller, and I think that's why some people a..."


Exactly. I know that for me, expectation plays a large role in how I feel about a book. Fortunately, I was intrigued enough by the writing and the characterization to want to keep going despite a slow start but if I was looking for a fast paced "mystery thriller", I would definitely have been disappointed.


message 41: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Rachelnyc wrote: "I know that for me, expectation plays a large role in how I feel about a book. Fortunately, I was intrigued enough by the writing and the characterization to want to keep going despite a slow start but if I was looking for a fast paced "mystery thriller", I would definitely have been disappointed. "

Definitely! I think that is a big factor in why people have had a range of reactions to the book. My personal preference is more towards the style of this book so it worked pretty well for me.


message 42: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments This book is pretty character-rich and I think we could have some good discussion about any of them, so I'll stick to a broad question.

Who was your favorite character in the book? Who was your least favorite? Did your perception of them change as more of the family secrets were revealed?


message 43: by Nancy (new)

Nancy (nbaker) I have to agree with everyone here, this really should not have been classified as a thriller. It was a mystery, a very slow going one though. I kept waiting to see how all of the beginnings would tie into anything else in the story. I have to say my least favorite character was Toby. Every time he opened his mouth I wished someone would just smack him for being so self involved. And of all the characters I think my favorite was Hugo.
Cant say I loved it, but I didnt hate it either. Just not what I expected it to be, and not sure why everyone was so enthralled by it.


message 44: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments Kali wrote: "This book is pretty character-rich and I think we could have some good discussion about any of them, so I'll stick to a broad question.

Who was your favorite character in the book? Who was your le..."


One of the things I liked about this book is that the characters (aside from Melissa) were all well developed and also flawed so there weren't many that I really liked. I am with Nancy, Hugo was my favorite and Toby my least.

I actually think based on the snippets of information we learned about Hugo's early life that there is a good book in there with him as protagonist.


message 45: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Rachelnyc wrote: "I actually think based on the snippets of information we learned about Hugo's early life that there is a good book in there with him as protagonist. "

I like this idea! I definitely wanted to know more about Hugo.


message 46: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
My favorite character was definitely Hugo (second favorite was Leon - I would like to learn more about Leon), and least favorite was definitely Toby. Toby was such a tool. The more I got to know him, the less I liked him (and I started out despising him, so ...) BUT I also was invested in his story and I felt bad for him even though I hated him. I hated him but I did t hate spending time with him.


message 47: by Kali (new)

Kali | 65 comments Nadine wrote: "Toby was such a tool. The more I got to know him, the less I liked him (and I started out despising him, so ...) BUT I also was invested in his story and I felt bad for him even though I hated him. I hated him but I did t hate spending time with him. "

I agree. I found him so infuriating. His choices didn't make much sense to me. But I still liked the book even though it was being told through his flawed perspective, which I think is a difficult thing to pull off in writing.

I also had a hard time deciding if Toby was a reliable narrator. Can we trust his version of events? Is he trying to make himself look better? Is his memory flawed because of the brain injury?


message 48: by Nadine (new)

Nadine Jones | 5358 comments Mod
Toby is definitely an unreliable narrator, but we will never know the extent since we only hear his version. It makes the book quite thought provoking.


message 49: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (dg_reads) | 83 comments I agree with the seemingly popular opinion that I liked Hugo best of all.

I agree that Toby is definitely unreliable as the narrator. It sounds like he has always been pretty oblivious to the people around him and anyone's feelings but his own. With the head trauma layered on even he doesn't know what is true memory.


message 50: by Pat (new)

Pat | 6 comments Hugo was my favorite character. Toby was really out of touch.


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