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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Merciless Eye For Psychological Detail

Apple Tree Yard - Louise Doughty

When Yvonne Carmichael, an eminent British geneticist in her fifties, is asked to present evidence to a committee of MPs at the House of Commons, she is surprised to find herself embarking on a casual affair with one of the security staff who work there.

Excited and flattered to find herself sexually desired at this late stage in her life, Yvonne does not see what she is doing as any kind of threat to her marriage or to the comfortable life she and her equally eminent husband have created. She can handle this. She can thrive on it:

"It is strange the way this sort of narcissism attracts people. I wonder if it is down to the wine glass in my hand, or the number of people who have greeted me enthusiastically before I’m even in the door, or the presence of so many illustrious colleagues in my field – which, of course, flatters my decision to attend the party myself – yes, it is all those things. But it is also you. I have just done something that most people at this party would never dream of doing, that I myself would never have dreamt of doing before I met you. And I have done it without being caught, I have pulled it off. Later, I will be going home to the nice house I share with my husband and here I am at a party full of high-achievers in my field and, guess what, I’m one of them. This is my life. Five minutes ago, it seems to me, I was one of the students with a trayful of wine glasses, eager to exchange a few words with a professor in my field. And now here I am, as if by magic, and people are coming up to me and it’s taking me a minute or two to recall their names. "

And perhaps it could all have been safely contained but for another, subsequent and entirely unexpected event, that will devastate her sense of herself, transform the nature of this casual affair and ultimately lead to her standing in dock of the Old Bailey accused of murder.

Written with intelligence and with a merciless eye for psychological detail, Apple Tree Yard is a harrowing exploration of the assumptions, fictions and fantasies on which we build our sense of self, of the partially disassembled gender roles that litter our society and of the way we conspire so readily in our own dis-satisfaction. I felt chastened after reading it.