Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Apple Tree Yard - Louise Doughty

Seldom has it happened that a television production I watch ends up leading me back to the novel adapted for that video presentation. Although this is happening more than ever right now because of the semi-isolated lifestyles so many of us have been forced to adopt in recent months, it still comes as a pleasant surprise to me when it does. I recently came across Louise Doughty’s 2013 Apple Tree Yard as a four-part television series that was originally broadcast by the BBC in early 2017, and I didn’t notice the book-credit until I began the second episode. The series stars Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, and Mark Bonnar, among other familiar faces. I noticed, too, that Doughty was not the screenplay writer, and that made me more curious about how the book and the television adaptation would compare.


I enjoyed the BBC production, but I’ve found that despite their overall plot similarity, Doughty’s novel is much the better of the two. In the BBC version, most everything unfolds in its natural, chronological order. One thing happens, and that leads, to the next, etc., and the viewer is right there to see it all happen. In the novel itself, things only happen as they cross the mind of the book’s narrator and central character, Yvonne Carmichael, as she holds an internal conversation with the book’s other central character. As Yvonne ponders something that has happened, or she wonders what would have happened if she had done “this” instead of “that,” everything is slowly revealed in the manner of jigsaw puzzle pieces falling into place. The novel, in fact, begins near the end of the story, so as Yvonne thinks back about her life and reveals more to the reader, we already know that all of this is not going to end particularly well.


“And after the imagined drama that made our daily lives bearable, we got a real drama, more of a drama than we could handle, and then we wanted our daily lives back, but they didn’t exist anymore. We discovered that safety and security are commodities you can sell in return for excitement, but you can never get them back.”


Note: Anything that follows is also revealed by the novel’s book jacket - no spoilers.


As Apple Tree Yard begins, Yvonne Carmichael and a man she hardly knows have been charged with murder and their trial is reaching its climax. The wonder of the story is how someone of Yvonne’s stature could have ended up where we find her in the novel’s prologue. She, after all, is a middle-aged woman who has been married for decades to the man who fathered their two adult children. She is a well-respected geneticist who at one point was involved in some groundbreaking work regarding the mapping of DNA. She is so good at what she does that she is often called in as an expert to advise special Parliament committees on ethics matters and potential legislative fixes. 


But now, her reputation, her future, and her very life hinge on one disastrous moment of sexual attraction and reckless behavior that led her to do something so out of character in a London alley called Apple Tree Yard that she can’t explain what happened even to herself. Or can she? She certainly tries hard enough to rationalize everything that happened before and after that encounter, but can we trust her to tell us the truth? 


Bottom Line: Apple Tree Yard, the novel, is brilliant. Its pacing is so perfect that, even after already having watched the BBC series, I could hardly wait to get to the next chapter. There are differences in the endings of the BBC show and the novel, mainly, I suspect, because the television series needed more dramatic visuals than the novel provided at the point in the storyline, but the novel is still the hands-down winner of the two. In Yvonne Carmichael, Louise Doughty has created one of those fictional characters I don’t think I will ever forget. I highly recommend this one.


Louise Doughty

8 comments:

  1. I didn't watch this when it was on but it looks like if we do decide to look for it on BBC iPlayer I should definitely read the book first?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think so, Cath. In the book, you get to live inside Yvonne's head as she thinks through what has already happened and whaat is happening to her in real time. The BBC series couldn't possibly go into that kind of character depth, so the book gives you a much better feel for why certain things are happening.

      Now, the series and the book do have rather different endings, and those endings impact the viewer/reader a little differently, so keep that in mind, too. I recommend both the book and the BBC adaptation, but especially the book.

      Delete
  2. I've read something by this author in the past but not this one. I'm curious now thou. Not sure about the BBC series but the book yes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The book is brilliant; the BBC adaptation is very good. I did enjoy both, but if you only have time for one, Diane, I recommend that it be the book.

      Delete
  3. I'm glad to know the book was even better than its adaptation. It sounds like an awesome read. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really is, Lark. The only place the TV adaptation was even close to matching the book was in the last five minutes of the series.

      Delete
  4. Sounds fascinating. People do surprise us, but this character sounds more than surprising!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a great character, Jen. I still wonder what she's thinking sometimes. LOL

      Delete