Janebbooks's Reviews > The Likeness

The Likeness by Tana French
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Mar 16, 2012

it was amazing
Read in April, 2011

~~~~~~ THE LIKENESS by Tana French ~~~~~~

The more mysteries I read, the more I think about this book which may be my most favorite mystery of all times. Most of the action is set at WHITETHORN HOUSE, a rambling old house in a suburb of Dublin owned by Daniel March through an inheritance. Daniel invites several of his fellow Trinity College colleagues--two men and two women-- to share the home...which becomes a cultural commune living arrangement until one of the five is murdered!

I couldn't write a review of this book...it was too profound...I had too many questions. But 243 other Amazon customers wrote reviews... And one of the reviewers wrote a review that posed more questions than I had after originally reading THE LIKENESS. There are 4 pages of comments on switterbug's review...and the one I posted was for her to further explain THE TITLE of her review...

The hawthorn as extended metaphor, July 22, 2008 by switterbug

As in her first novel, In the Woods, Tana French has created another sensuous, lyrical, haunting, suspenseful story. Although it is considered a mystery, it is much much more than that. It is a story of identity in all its literal and metaphorical forms. It is a social commentary (but never sententious) and it is also about fear and flight and love.

Cassie Maddox and Sam O'Neill are detectives from In the Woods. Although Operation Vestal (from In the Woods) is mentioned several times, these books can be read in any sequence without ruining it for the reader. The setting is again Dublin, Ireland.

Cassie is the star attraction of this story as she goes undercover to live with four liberal arts doctoral candidates whose housemate, Lexie Madison, is found dead from a stabbing in an abandoned cottage. Lexie Madison looks exactly like Cassie, and the name is her last undercover alias, which adds to the mystery. The housemates will be told that she survived the stabbing.

It isn't necessary to give too many plot details. What is more important is the response from reading. This is a generous, gorgeous, thoughtful, poetic story. The tone is almost elegiac at times, especially during her descriptive paragraphs, and the author's use of the extended metaphor is prolific and often profound. At the end of the novel, I looked up hawthorn (the tree, flower, bush) on Wikipedia and had a chill run up and down my spine. Her descriptions, turns of phrase, elegant passages and graceful unfolding keep me fastened and fascinated. What I love about Tana French is that her novels are both character-driven AND plot-driven. She does not sacrifice one for the other. With most mysteries, I only read them once. But The Likeness can be read again just for the aesthetics. Also, there is no deus ex machina here. The story is excellently paced with a well-timed delivery of its climax.

Tana French is no lightweight, but she makes the story accessible to anyone who enjoys reading. She has that gift to appeal to a variety of readers-- even readers who look for largely escape mysteries. But this is not escape reading; it is the kind of reading that makes you ponder. It is philosophical and it echoes. It has shadows, swirls, hollows, heart,humanity, tension, suspense, whispers, hawthorn, hawthorn, hawthorn...

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07/02/2016 marked as: read

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Janebbooks In researching the implication of "whitethorn"..."hawthorn" which an Amazon reader likened unto an extended metaphor for her review of THE LIKENESS, I looked to find the "chilling" explanation for whitethorn or hawthorn that switterbug said I would find at Wikipedia.

Wikipedia tells us some folklore.

In Celtic lore, the hawthorn plant was used commonly for rune inscriptions along with Yew and Apple. It was once said to heal the broken heart. In Ireland, the red fruit is, or was in living memory, called the Johnny MacGorey or Magory. but the Gaelic folklore must be the meaning that sent chills down "switterbug's" spine:

"In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn (in Scottish Gaelic, Sgitheach and in Irish, sceach) 'marks the entrance to the otherworld' and is strongly associated with the fairies. Lore has it that it is very unlucky to cut the tree at any time other than when it is in bloom, however during this time it is commonly cut and decorated as a May Bush. This warning persists to modern times; it has been questioned by folklorist Bob Curran whether the ill luck of the De Lorean Motor Company was associated with the destruction of a fairy thorn to make way for a production facility."

Both explanations are interesting....not too chilling.

Perhaps the whole metaphor was that the communal settlement in French's THE LIKENESS in a manor called "Whitethorn House" was never meant to last.


Jane This is one of my favorite reads, in recent memory. French has not disappointed me yet. This gives me a lot to think about and revisit. Thank you for sharing.


message 3: by Janebbooks (last edited Feb 08, 2013 06:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Janebbooks Thank you, Jane, for your comments. I recently sent the opening paragraphs of this novel to commemorate the passing of longtime respected crime blogger Petrona....some memories of people and words are "for ever and ever."

“Some nights, if I'm sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House. In the dream it's always spring, cool fine light with a late afternoon haze. I climb the worn stone steps and knock on the door--that great brass knocker, going black with age and heavy enough to startle you every time...

The house is always empty. The bedrooms are bare and bright, only my footsteps echoing off the floorboards, circling up through the sun and the dust motes to the high ceilings. Smell of wild hyacinths, drifting through the wide-open windows, and of beeswax polish. Chips of white paint flaking off the window sashes and a tendril of ivy swaying in over the sill. Wood doves, lazy somewhere outside.

In the sitting room the piano is open, wood glowing chestnut and almost too bright to look at in the bars of sun, the breeze stirring the yellowed sheet music like a finger. The table is laid ready for us, five settings--the bone-china plates and the long-stemmed wineglasses, fresh-cut honeysuckle trailing from a crystal bowl--but the silverware has gone dim with tarnish and the heavy damask napkins are filled with dust…

Somewhere in the house, faint as a fingernail-flick at the edge of my hearing, there are sounds: a scuffle, whispers. It almost stops my heart. The others aren't gone, I got it all wrong somehow. They're only hiding; they're still here, for ever and ever.”

…from The Likeness by Tana French


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