Monday, 5 December 2016

The Likeness by Tana French

 
published 2008



 
Likeness 1
 


They were waiting for me outside the door, ranged at the top of the steps. In my mind I still see them like that, lacquered gold by the evening sun and glowing vivid as a vision, every fold of their clothes and curve of their faces pristine and achingly clear. Rafe leaning against the railing with his hands in his jeans pockets; Abby in the middle, swayed forwards on her toes, one arm crooked to shade her eyes; Justin, his feet precisely together and his hands clasped behind his back. And behind them, Daniel, framed between the columns of the door, his head up and the light splintering off his glasses. None of them moved as Frank pulled up and braked, pebbles scattering. They were like figures on a medieval frieze, self-contained, mysterious, spelling out a message in some lost and arcane code. Only Abby’s skirt fluttered, fitfully, in the breeze...


Likeness 2



‘Hi,’ I said at the bottom of the steps, looking up at them. For a second I thought they weren’t going to answer… Then Daniel took a step forwards, and the picture wavered and broke. A smile started across Justin’s face, Rafe straightened up and raised one arm in a wave, and Abby came running down the steps and hugged me hard. ‘Hey, you,’ she said, laughing, ‘welcome home.’



Likeness 3Likeness 4



commentary: Any very keen blog readers out there will be able to tell exactly how well I am doing in my attempt to ration my reading of Tana French, spread them out. In September there were two entries on her books: the new one The Trespasser on the 22nd, and In the Woods, her first, four days later on the 26th. (Secret Place came in March.) She’s only written six books, and now I have fallen and read my fourth. Only two left, sigh.

The Likeness was my favourite so far, and that’s saying something as I have loved them all. I am always fascinated by, and critical of, books about groups of young people living in houses together and worrying away about a crime – it’s a familiar trope, and one I’ve written about before. The Likeness has an inventive and extraordinary setup: one of the young people has been murdered, but that news hasn’t been released. The dead girl had been using a former undercover ID of Detective Cassie Maddox (whom we know from In the Woods). Maddox looks sufficiently like her to take her place in the house of doom, with the idea of finding out what happened to the victim. This is plainly a ludicrous and impossible project, but somehow French makes it almost believable, and also unbearably tense and riveting. (I have also made it sound more complex than it is – when you are reading the book, it is clear and straightforward what the plan is, however preposterous.)

The main cast are post-grad students in their 20s, studying at Trinity College Dublin and living an hour’s drive away in a big old house in a sinister Wicklow village. Maddox has troubles in her past and a boyfriend on the investigating team. It’s like French has a checklist of great yet disparate crime book tropes, and decided as a challenge to get them into the same unlikely plot. Well - I can pretend to mock all I want, but you could not have paid me to put this book down unfinished, I was desperate to know what had happened in the past and what would happen next.

As ever there are great women characters, wonderful descriptions:
all I could feel was every muscle loosening like I was eight years old and cartwheeling myself dizzy on some green hillside like I could dive a thousand miles through cool blue water without once needing to breathe. I had been right: freedom smelled like ozone and thunderstorms and gunpowder all at once, like snow and bonfires and cut grass, it tasted like seawater and oranges.
Funny recognizable character traits:
Frank has always had a spectacular array of mates in unlikely places: my mate down at the docks, my mate on the County Council, my mate who runs the S& M shop. Back when we first began this whole Lexie Madison thing, My Mate At Births Deaths and Marriages made sure she was officially registered, in case anyone got suspicious and started sniffing around, while My Mate With The Van helped me move into her bedsit. I figure I’m happier not knowing about whatever complex barter system is going on there.
Cutting comments:
Here I had been all freaked out about having one double; he must have run into a clone of himself on every street corner in south Dublin.
More great description:
Lexie was fearless. She was like an ice skater balanced effortlessly on the edge of her own speed, throwing in joyous, elaborate twirls and leaps just for the hell of it.
The impersonation in the book is beyond belief, and yet French forces you to accept it, and then plays games with the characters and the reader, doubling and re-doubling – I certainly had ideas and thoughts whirling in my head, and sometimes lost track of who was Lexy and who was Cassie. A superb read.

The house they live in is easily imagined and familiar from other Irish books, but also familiar if you visit the Irish countryside – there are still many of them around. And in the past the residents liked nothing better than to be photographed on the steps, as in the description above. I found all these photos at the wonderful National Library of Ireland, with its terrific collection made freely available (and much in use on the blog.)

(In case this isn't crystal clear: the book The Likeness is entirely contemporary, early 21st century - I just liked the older photos to capture the spirit of this scene.)

Top picture shows guests at Curraghmore House near Portlaw, Co. Waterford in 1922.

Second picture shows a party at Kilboy, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.

Seapark House Malahide has a look of the house in the book.

The 4th picture is an engagement photo from 1933: Lady Alethea Buxton (daughter of Earl Buxton) and Mr. Peter Eliot (son of the Hon. Edward Eliot, who is a brother of the Earl of St. Germans), whose engagement has been announced, photographed at Mount Congreve, Waterford, where they were on a visit".

















25 comments:

  1. One thing I really liked about this one, Moira, was French's description of the almost-claustrophobic relationships among the people in the house. I think it adds a lot to the tension in the story. Glad you enjoyed this so well.

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    1. Yes, exactly, claustrophobia is a good word for it. She is so good on atmosphere as well as plots and dialogue...

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  2. It's no good, Moira. I couldn't keep up, even if I didn't read anything except what's featured on your blog! And yet I find I do want to read so much of what you write about. This sounds so gripping.

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    1. Thanks Chrissie, a real compliment. This author is a standout - I seem to have discovered some great new authors this year, but she is probably the best. The one I can least stop reading, anyway.

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  3. You've whetted my appetite, Moira. It's high time to dust off some old Tana French's books on my TBR shelves. By the way The Secret Place: Dublin Murder Squad:# 5 is at € 0.99, on Amazon.es (Kindle format) Needless to say I've fallen into temptation, despite my efforts to reduce my pile of books TBR

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    1. Thanks for the tipoff Jose Ignacio, and I hope you enjoy Tana French. I think she's marvellous.

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  4. I am also a French fanatic--and this one is my favorite as well.

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    1. Oh good! I wonder what others think, whether they'd pick a different one....

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  5. I love Tana French's books, not sure I can pick a favorite. Keep hoping she'll go back and "solve" In the Woods. No matter how unbelievable the situation she makes me believe, and care.

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    1. Yes, actually I too would love it if she did that.

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  6. I'm right with you. Of the several Tana French novels I've read (I have one in the "imminent" stack) this is easily my favorite. Yes, the premise is preposterous, but French gloriously makes it all work to produce a wonderful suspenser.

    I, er, didn't notice any of the clothes bits, though.

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    1. You're allowed! I have special radar. And yes, what a fabulous book.

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  7. Well, glad you read it and liked it.

    I liked it, too, and was glued to the book until I finished it.

    However, having read all six Murder Squad books, I liked three a lot, including The Likeness. In the Woods and Faithful Place were the other favorites.

    But then I just read The Trespasser and was blown away by it. Can't even describe how gripping the book was to me.

    But the piece de resistance was the dialogue. Incredible.
    The reality, crassness, sarcasm and wit all rolled into one.
    And each time Antoinette Conway replied to someone else's words, I'd say to myself, "exactly. This is exactly the right reply." I felt like I was eating good chocolate cake it was so scrumptious.

    And I raved to friends and on blogs about the book. A friend ran out and bought it and couldn't put it down. She agreed and got post-good-book slump after finishing it, as did I.

    And it wasn't so much because I'd miss the characters or the plot, but because I'd miss the dialogue, the repartee, the wit and the intelligence.

    Maybe I"ll go back and reread The Likeness. I'd like to, but then again the TBR pile and list are huge and I've got a slew of library books to read. But sometimes we have to resavor the good books just for the writing.

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    1. I know, it's always a question isn't it, on re-reading? I think I used to re-read more, but nowadays there are so many new or new-to-me books coming at me...

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  8. Also, suggest you read Lisa McInerney's The Glorious Heresies. She's young and it's her first novel. It's got a bit of crime in it to entice mystery readers.
    But her characters and sentences are worth it. Her words are intelligently written and some stand out.
    And it's set in Cork, Ireland and there is much about the book that has Irish moodiness and humor.

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    1. Thanks, I will try to read that. If you're recommending in the same breath as Tana French she must be good!

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  9. It's difficult to pick a favorite French, but "The Likeness" is one that really lingers in my imagination. That claustrophobic air was a big part of it.

    While reading it, I pictured the house looking like the one in the Irish R.M. TV series with Peter Bowles from decades ago.

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    1. They are all so good, but this one had an extra layer of weirdness which I think means it will stick in my mind forever, and I'm sure I will re-read it. I remember that TV series! The book is good too.

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  10. The Glorious Heresies won the Bailey Women Writer's Prize this year. It's different from French's writing, but it's good. Some of the sentences really grabbed me.
    I seem to be pulled toward Ireland in this year's writing, having devoured books by Sinead Crowley, Tana French, Lisa McInerney and Anne Enright.
    And some some excellent Ken Loach (I love his movies) movies set in Ireland, as well as Colm Toibin's Brooklyn.
    It may be trying to get a graap of my Irish heritage and the people and their struggles.

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  11. I meant in this year's reading, not writing.

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    1. I enjoyed the Ken Loach film Jimmy's Hall, did you see that one? and I liked Brooklyn the book and the film...

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  12. I liked Jimmy's Hall a lot, saw it this year. Very good, very Irish. Loved his mother's character, too.

    In past years, I saw the blockbuster of The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which still brings tears to my eyes to think about and Hidden Agenda, set in the north of Ireland.

    Brooklyn was sweet. Just saw the movie. It was very Irish and very Brooklyn from years ago. Now Brooklyn is nearly a city in itself, with people from many nationalities and countries, and lots of communities.

    For many Brooklynites, going into Manhattan is a trip.

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    1. I thought they did a great job with the movie Brooklyn, though can't speak for the authenticity of the Brooklyn scenes. But the Irish parts were shot in a town and area, and beach, that I know well - the area my father's family comes from.

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  13. I am glad I have so many good books to look forward to. I have this one and at least one more in the series on my shelves, it would be good to read at least one this year. Sorry to be so far behind in commenting, I guess early December was a bad time for me.

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    1. I get behind all the time, do it all at once! I hope you enjoy Tana French when you get to her: I am making myself wait to read another one, I love her books so much.

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