“The Likeness” by Tana French

I re-read both Tana French’s The Likeness and its predecessor, In the Woods, in preparation for a discussion at Book and Bars last week. I loved it again this time, again strongly enamored of an academic/intellectual haven depicted, but was surprised to find myself disappointed in the ending, which dragged on and on, for well over 100 pages once the biggest of big reveals happened. Nonetheless, I was happy to spend time with this book, narrated by Cassie Maddox, a supporting character from In the Woods, who is suffering emotional fallout from her previous case when she is presented with an opportunity to go undercover and find who murdered a girl who looked just like her. Cassie’s past and present, undercover and real-world selves, personal and professional lives, get mixed up in complex and fascinating ways as she joins a household of insular intellectuals, all of whom are suspects in the murder.

Like In the Woods, there is a fairly preposterous premise, but I was happy to suspend my disbelief and tear through the book. Even though I knew who did it, I still appreciated the plot, though not the pacing at beginning and end. I was happy to spend more time with Cassie, and liked meeting her former boss Frank. I especially loved her time spent undercover, the group of people she falls in with, and their bizarre but idyllic life:

“Ah,” Daniel said, glancing up from his stack. “Now that’s a concept that’s always fascinated me: the real world. Only a very specific subset of people use the term, have you noticed? To me, it seems self-evident that everyone lives in the real world–we all breathe real oxygen, eat real food, the earth under our feet feels equally solid to all of us. But clearly these people have a farm more tightly circumscribed definition of reality, one that I find deeply mysterious, and an almost pathologically intense need to bring others into line with that definition.

As I raced to finish the book in time for the discussion, I was shocked to discover something I’d missed the first time through. It’s in a paragraph near the end, so I assume I was skimming through the slow bits the first time I read to get to the end. I shared this with some friends who’d also read the book, who were also shocked when they carefully read this short but powerful paragraph. If you want to check it out and have already read the book, it’s on page 444 of the US Penguin trade paperback.

I read a few interviews with the author, and was not surprised to find she’s an actor, given the depth of characterization and psychological motivation in her books. I was also not surprised she named Donna Tartt’s Secret History as a favorite of hers, and an influence, especially in the plot of The Likeness. I recently read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which has a similar intellectual covey and the author says he re-reads that book every few years. I read it long ago, but think it’s getting time to revisit it, given how much I’ve liked two books strongly influenced by it.

7 Responses to ““The Likeness” by Tana French”

  1. Kate Says:

    Ack–I have the hardcover edition. Any other clue to its location or portent in the comments?

  2. girldetective Says:

    Kate, for the ratio it’s 444/466 in my edition, in the second segment of her conversation with Sam after she’s out. The passage starts, “Later, when we were cocooned in the duvet…” and the para is about half a page away and starts “I’m not Lexie…”

  3. carolyn Says:

    I absolutely loved both these books — also the third book about Frank. Have you read it yet? (Sorry, too lazy to check.)

  4. girldetective Says:

    I did read the third, Faithful Place, and liked it least. Tore through it like the others, but in retrospect disliked the main character as a stereotype: angry cop with drinking problem and bitter ex wife who is seen to have redeeming qualities in how he loves his kid.

  5. Steph Says:

    I’ve not read The Secret History (though I own it), but when I began my effusive praise of Tana French, many readers of my blog mentioned that it would be a worthy companion book. Hopefully I’ll make time for it this year!

    This is my favorite of French’s three novels thus far, and like you, her most recent was my least favorite. For whatever reason, I find Frank Mackey less interesting than either Cassie or Rob, and I found his mystery less, well, mysterious than the previous two. Really must re-read this and In The Woods again soon.

  6. carolyn Says:

    oh I think I liked the third one the best. :)

    I did not like Secret History on the other hand (altho I read it a zillion years ago and can’t particularly remember why). At the time, didn’t think she deserved the hype or the $$$ advance.

  7. girldetective Says:

    Not sure, but the agent that got Donna Tartt that advance might’ve been the one who got arrested in NYC for using her SUV to back over someone she was angry with. Binky someone?