Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Likeness Review

The Likeness is by the Irish novelist Tana French. It is a thriller about Cassie Maddox, an under-cover cop who creates an alternate personality for herself, Lexie Madison, to use in infiltrating a drug ring. When Cassie gets stabbed during under-cover she is transferred to the Murder squad, and after a particularly nasty case there she ends up working for the apparently quieter domestic violence unit. She’s still recovering her nerves when her doppelganger shows up murdered, going by the name Lexie Madison—the fake identify Cassie created years ago. Lexie lived with four other English literature grad students in an old house called Whitethorn that one of them inherited. They have no idea what Lexie’s real identity is, and Lexie doesn’t seem to have any connections to anyone other than the people she lived with, and they’re not giving anything away. The case seems impossible to penetrate from the outside, so they decide to work it from the inside. They tell Lexie’s housemates that she’s recovered and going back home and Cassie goes back under cover as Lexie to try to get to the bottom of the case. There’s other plot lines about Cassie’s boyfriend cop who can always be counted on to do the right and boring thing, and Cassie being emo about her checkered past but I couldn’t bring myself to care about them and feel no need to discuss them.

The thing that kept me reading was the dynamic among the grad students. They don’t have a T.V. when they’re not studying in the library they’re working on the crazy old house or reading or playing cards and listening to old records. One of them restores the embroidery on an antique footstool and stitches new clothes for an old doll she finds. One makes obscure literary references when drunk. Throughout it all they stick together and quip back and forth and create their own bastion against reality in Whitethorn house. The only problem is that whenever any group of people pits itself against the world, the world will always eventually win. The world has infinite patience and all the time, well, in the world. And the longer you lock reality out and keep it circling round your house the more pissed off it will be when it finally gets in.

The novel made me long for the year that I spent living with four college students in a crazy house in a way that only a book about murder can. Still, my love of the characters did not cloud my judgment so much as to miss the fact that the novel really wasn’t particularly well-written. It had all the unexpected twists that you expect from a modern thriller. I was also disappointed by the way that French occasionally mentioned one character not liking another because of their city dialect but the reader couldn’t really glimpse the dialect from the dialogue. I felt like if it was so important then I should be able to tell for myself rather than just being told that so and so had a Dublin dialect. Occasionally she would write “ye” or add an extraneous “sure” (she didn’t believe in writing in dialect, sure) but it was pretty sparsely peppered through. As much as I didn’t like Crow Road dialect was at least one area where it excelled, especially over this novel. I also didn’t like the way the ending dragged on. I hate the French no-dénouement ending as much as the next person but this novel kept going on for a while after I’d lost interest and it was only habit that kept me reading to the bitter end. Overall I’d give it four stars out of five, but only because I loved the characters too much to give it a three.

“You can have anything you want as long as you accept that there is a price and that you will have to pay it.”

“If you are absolutely sure of something, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll eventually persuade people who aren’t sure one way or the other.”

“Regardless of what the advertising campaigns may tell us, we can’t have it all. Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism; it’s a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that’s worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice.”

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