The beautiful day of my birth came and went last week. All I wanted to do was take my Tana French book beneath a shady tree and read. Think this doesn’t sound exciting? Read Tana French. Spend a few weeks sick first then read Tana French and you’ll absolutely understand.
Nobody believed I wanted to disappear in a book on my birthday, so we went places instead. Now that I’ve finished The Likeness, I still want to disappear in it, specifically its midsection. I liked this book so much. One glance at the cover elicits longing if-only’s, and this cover doesn’t come close to doing the story and writing justice. Nobody writes like Tana French. She’s one of the greats. The first two books I read by her, In The Woods and The Secret Place, set the bar high. This one blew me away. It sealed the deal. Cemented our forever friendship however one-sided. I’m renaming our neighbor’s cat Tana French.
This is part of The Dublin Murder Squad series. I’m reading them out of order and so far it hasn’t mattered. They stand alone.
I plan to read everything Tana French ever writes simply because her writing is intoxicating. Reading her is effortless. The action and physicality of characters and settings are accessible and lingering, but also nuanced. A paragraph about a home’s former grandeur reveals a layered glimpse into Ireland’s past and the social conflicts still imbuing how people relate. I take my time with these books. They could be quick page-turners, but speed comes at a cost. I prefer re-reading as we go just for the pleasure of enjoying her words again and again.
Besides being written like a drug, the story is fascinating. I’m not giving any spoilers here. Not telling you anything beyond the gist of the premise.
Detective Cassie Maddox is surprised when her boyfriend Sam calls her into a crime scene. He’s on the Murder Squad but she transferred to Domestic Violence months ago. She’s even more surprised when she arrives to find her former boss in undercover on the case. Once she sees the body, her life changes forever. The victim is her exact doppelganger. Weirdness gets weirder when she learns the woman went by the name Lexie Madison, an identity the detective invented a few years back for an undercover assignment.
It was like going blind; my eyes couldn’t take her in. She was impossible: a high-fever hallucination, a screaming crack straight across all the laws of nature.
The temptation to take her former boss up on his proposal to go undercover as Lexie in the massive Georgian home she was living in with her five close friends is irresistible. Whitehorn House is near a small village outside of Dublin. Inside Whitehorn House, it’s another world.
That house shimmered in my mind like some fairy fort that appeared for one day in a lifetime, tantalizing and charged, with those four cool figures for guardians and inside secrets too hazy to be named.
French digs deep into the psychology of Lexie/Cassie and her four mercurial housemates. You can almost see each scene from every angle and moments open up that you don’t want to ever end. The suspense chimes in from a low hum to a piercing turn around! at the end of every night. We have no idea who the killer is or what happens once Stabby McStabStab thinks Lexie’s alive. We don’t even know the victim’s true identity.
That’s the gist.
Then there’s all the waves of earnest wanting that come rushing at you throughout. The lives of “unfettered thought” that Lexie and her friends dream of when they’re secure in the bubble of academia is a stark contrast to the “real world” awaiting. To them, the lives they want is just as real and valid, if not more, however unconventional.
Every choice has a price. They talk about paying that price for the things you want. So you have to really want them because then the price is worth it. Choose things you don’t really want just because they’re on the path of least resistance and imagine the bitterness of realizing you paid a higher price.
What struck me is how simple and luxurious life in Whitehorn House seems. Possibilities are so bright inside and on the sprawling grounds, where it’s right to patch pealing wallpaper with lovely fabric and spend a whole day sanding and painting and caring for your home. They don’t have to ask permission or rush off to make a few pennies working crummy jobby jobs. They work constantly – physically and studiously – but they do it without fear and struggle, content living within their modest means because their means are just enough. You don’t want Cassie to ever leave because then we have to go, too.
The Likeness is labeled a Mystery, but it doesn’t read like a whodunnit. It’s the Why and ideas that drive this story. Why is where the story breathes and morphs and inevitably breaks your heart because you know it can’t go on. I didn’t want it to be over. Very disappointed in French for ending this book.