Why did I love this book?
I first discovered The Rose and the Yew Tree while searching for novels about irreparable rifts between once-close friends. I always seek out books that resonate, thematically, with any current emotional challenge that I have. At the time, I had just been sent the most vicious communication I’ve ever received in my life from someone I’d believed was a close friend. Her letter accused me of two things I hadn’t done, and I was absolutely floored by it.
Later, once I’d calmed down, I reread the WhatsApp messages I’d sent her in response to her letter, explaining that she was mistaken and that I had not done the things she’d accused me of. I was shocked by my own panicked and subservient tone. I recognised the palpable fear in my words, and I realised that I’d had only one goal at the time: to ward off further attack.
So, I then had an interesting grudge against myself to contend with! For a good few weeks, I believed my own cowardice was highly grudgeworthy. Why had I not responded to her letter with, ‘I’m not going to dignify this with a reply’? I forgave myself eventually, both for my fear and appeasement of her and for my poor judgement on the choice-of-friends front, but only on one condition: that I resolved to do better in future. From now on I would be brave even when scared. And my close circle of friends would never again contain anybody who thought it was okay to have ‘Send slanderous hate mail’ in their repertoire of behavioural options.
Why am I sharing all of this? To explain why I cheered when I read the blurb and first chapter of The Rose and the Yew Tree, both of which promised a highly unusual take on the friendship-gone-sour theme. There are loads of novels about the more common varieties of friend grudges. The Rose and the Yew Tree piqued my interest from the start by promising a far spikier, odder and more unpredictable narrative experience. I recognised in its narrator’s voice something of the horror and disgust that I had so recently felt. It seemed to be the perfect book at the perfect time.
In Chapter 1 of the novel, a woman arrives at the home of the narrator, Hugh, and begs him to go and visit the death bed of his former friend and now enemy, John Gabriel. Hugh refuses, but is then intrigued when the woman tells him that these days Gabriel is viewed as a saint and a hero by all who know him. This bears little resemblance to the immoral cad that Hugh remembers, and he is mystified - so much so that he has to go to the death bed to find out what on earth can have happened to Gabriel in the intervening years.
This novel is one of Agatha Christie’s best, and is satisfyingly mysterious even though it’s not a murder mystery.