What would you risk for an affair, for the excitement it brings? Your marriage? Your career? Your children? Your freedom?
Yvonne Carmichael, 52, is a geneticist working for a private research company. She also assists in the assessment of PhD students and gives evidence at the House of Lords in front of their Standing Committees. When we first encounter her, she is standing trial at the Old Bailey for – at this point in the novel – an unidentified crime:
And that is the moment. That is the moment when it all comes crashing down, and I know, and you in the dock know too, for you put your head in your hands. We both know we are about to lose everything – our marriages are over, our careers are finished, I have lost my son’s and daughter’s good regard, and more than that, our freedom is at stake. Everything we have worked for, everything we have tried to protect: it is all about to tumble.
The ‘you’ Yvonne is referring to is a man she met after appearing at a Standing Committee. He chats to her and offers to show her the Chapel in the Crypt below the Houses of Parliament. Down there, he takes her into what used to be a broom cupboard and now contains electrical workings. On the rear of the door is a photograph and a brass plaque marking the spot in which Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette hid herself on the night of the 1911 census.
We kiss – your mouth soft, full, all the things that mouths should be – and I realise I knew this would happen from the minute I set eyes on you in the corridor outside the committee room, it was just a question of how and when.
And so begins Yvonne’s affair with a man whose name she doesn’t even know.
It isn’t the only thing she doesn’t know about him either:
‘So what is it you do, exactly?’
On this occasion, you will shrug, ‘Civil Service, all very boring, looking after the Parliamentary Estate, oiling the wheel for the people in charge…’
It is a question to which I never get the same answer twice.
Doughty’s very good at portraying the way people act when they’ve first met someone they become romantically involved with: the checking of the phone for texts and calls; the wanting to meet up with them as often as possible; the things you gloss over that don’t quite add up…
Apple Tree Yard explores how well we really know someone, whether we’ve recently begun sleeping with them, whether we’ve been married to them for decades, whether we’ve been work colleagues for some time. Using Yvonne Carmichael, educated but sometimes naïve, as the reader’s guide through these ideas means we’re hooked onto her narrative waiting for more details as to who her lover is and why and how both of them have come to be on trial.
As Yvonne herself says ‘The trouble with stories is, they are addictive’ and hers certainly is. Apple Tree Yard will have you up past bedtime, turning the pages, desperate to piece all the evidence together. A must read.
Thanks to Faber and Faber for the review copy.