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...
‘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.’
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".