Having enjoyed the author's other books, I found this one to be a slog. Ms. French is a very skilled writer, but finishing this one was a battle. At the center is Toby, a twenty something hail fellow well met. He spends his time pushing the ethics envelope on the job, drinking with his buddies, pulling adolescent pranks and occasionally paying attention to his girlfriend, Melissa, who is the only ray of sunshine in this gloomy book and although he professes to love her, it's hard to see why she cares about him.On an ordinary evening, two men burgle Toby's apartment and beat him nearly to death. Since he is the narrator and spends the first third of this book in the hospital, there is very little action and is largely written as though he were not on a morphine drip and completely aware. Even drugs do not keep Toby from being annoyed. He's in pain, hates the doctors, wishes his mother would leave him alone and so on.Released from the hospital, Toby has lasting effects from the beating, some physical, some psychological. He doesn't want to do anything but mope around while resenting anyone who tries to help. He's such an unlikable guy it's difficult to feel sorry for him. Just when I was ready to give up on this book, his family convinces Toby to move in with his bachelor uncle, Hugo. Hugo is terminally ill and can't be alone and since Toby isn't doing anything anyway, he agrees. Both Melissa and Toby move in with Hugo, who is failing but whose attitude is the opposite of his nephew, gentle and considerate. Melissa goes to work and Hugo spends his days tracing people's ancestry online. Toby takes too many drugs and wanders around feeling sorry for himself. Each Saturday the extended family visits The Ivy, Hugo's home. They bring food. There are parents, cousins, children and they drink and talk and talk and talk. These conversations are not much different from most family get togethers. Lots of resentments pop up, eyeballs roll, parents yell at the children. Just when it appeared that nothing was every going to happen again in this book, Eureka!At one of these Saturday free for alls, Hugo shoos the children outside to go on a hunt for buried treasure and one of them discovers a human skull. Half the family is for tossing it over the fence but Hugo insists they call the authorities. There is much discussion among the family members about whether the skull is ancient or contemporary and so on and, of course, they have no idea.When the identity of the deceased is discovered to be contemporary, the police become involved and the hunt is on. The police are called and to a man they are menacing and suspicious while being verbally obsequious. With nothing else to do, really, Toby sets out to be a detective. He plies his cousins with alcohol and engages them in verbal jousts and asks what he thinks are brilliant questions in hopes of gaining some clues as to what they know. Toby has become paranoid and afraid after his beating so poking his nose into deep waters would not seem to be logical but forward he rushes, drunk and stoned. Melissa is disgusted and moves out. Toby whines.The characters, with the exception of Melissa and Hugo, are not sympathetic and they talk, talk, talk and Toby complains for hundreds of pages. This might have been a better book if Toby himself had been the victim as the suspect pool would have been wide. From the point where Toby moves in with Hugo, this book is like a play. All the action takes place at The Ivy, home of the Witch Elm of the title. Toby doesn't leave, Hugo doesn't leave. Melissa leaves and comes back and the rest of the cast wanders in and out, airing complaints. The last half of the book is nearly all dialogue. It's a trial to read a book where the narrator is a a self-absorbed brat who stays stoned and is all about me! me! Rarely do I dislike a book so much that I considered chucking it half way through.