‘Apple Tree Yard’ opens in a courtroom, with our narrator in the dock, although we don’t yet know her crime. To explain how she got there, Yvonne takes us right back to the beginning – to the events that set everything in motion.
Yvonne is 52, married, has two children and is a successful geneticist. She could be any one of us. As she takes pains to point out – her life is ordinary. But the choices she makes over the course of a few short months will take her down a road that Yvonne never thought she would travel.
The direction of the book continually changes as it progresses. Every time we think we can see where the story is leading, something shifts, changing with it our perceptions of characters. The end, when it comes, is a tense and anxious experience, all building up to the one moment that has the potential to change her life forever.
The style of writing in this book, as though the narrator is talking directly to her readers while she tells her story, creates an immediate feeling of intimacy. We are thrown completely into Yvonne’s world and her innermost thoughts. She isn’t too kind on herself, instead treating the whole situation with the type of biting honesty and self-criticism that we all have in hindsight. Because of this intimacy and the way that the story unfolds, we feel each betrayal or cutting remark thrown her way, just as we feel alternately vindicated, frustrated or devastated by every decision Yvonne makes.
We don’t find out Yvonne’s name until quite far into the book. Similarly we don’t know the names of her husband, her children, or her co-defendant. In fact, for much of the book, it is just ‘I’ and ‘You’ and ‘my husband’. When Yvonne does start to use people’s names in her story, it signals a breaking of the exciting, fictional illusion that she has created, and the reality of her decisions and their impact on the people around her starts to creep back in.
This book hits a nerve is because we’re watching someone’s life unravelling right in front of us. We all make bad decisions. We all have secrets. We all have parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of or that we’d like to keep hidden. And as Yvonne is forced to confront her secrets and her choices in a very public way, it’s clear that she could be any one of us, had we only chosen differently.