John's Reviews > The Likeness

The Likeness by Tana French
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it was amazing

I really don't have the time, alas, to write notes that would do justice to this impressive novel. The prime reason I don't have the time is that I slept in this morning, having been up half the night finishing the book.

French's debut, In the Woods, was a fairly astonishing piece of work, part police procedural, part psychological thriller, but for the most part something entirely distinctive, as two members of Dublin's (nonexistent) Murder Squad found their lives and their friendship shattered by a bizarre case.

In The Likeness one of those cops, Cassie Maddox, still suffering the psychological bruises of the earlier case, is called in when the murdered body's discovered of a young woman who looks uncannily like her. But what really comes to haunt Cassie, our narrator, is that the dead woman is identified as Alexandra "Lexie" Madison, an identity that Cassie and her boss Frank invented years ago when Cassie went underground to penetrate Dublin's university drugs scene. How could Lexie Madison have gained a real existence . . . and now a real death?

Lexie was one of five close university friends who together lived in the dilapidated mansion inherited by one of them: the five didn't just live together but were inseparable in all things, a faux-family with bonds even tighter than those of most genuine ones. Frank, a born maverick, is eager that Cassie make the attempt to impersonate Lexie and once again go undercover, this time in hopes that through living with her "family" she can nose out the truth of the murder. Cassie, likewise a born maverick, agrees. They have lots of videocam material to work with; the accents are similar; the personalities near enough that Cassie can match Lexie's irrespressibility and insouciance . . .

Obviously you need a fair amount of suspension of disbelief as you enter this tale, but the explanation of the incredible premise is perfectly fair, perfectly plausible, and the telling is sufficiently skilful that soon it's easy enough to believe that Cassie could indeed -- albeit often by just the skin of her teeth -- carry off the impersonation. The real interest lies in the way that Cassie, even though clinging to her own personality, starts becoming the late Lexie. French manages to convey this through subtle modulations of narrative style: after a while we, too, are in a state of ambiguity about the precise identity of our narrator.

But there's an even cleverer trick to come. Well before the end, the solution to the murder becomes clear to Cassie and ourselves -- the motive, roughly what went down that fateful night, etc. Exactly who the murderer is doesn't emerge until near the close, but that datum is by then almost irrelevant. A hundred pages to go, we know the solution, it hardly matters who the murderer is? It sound like a recipe for disaster -- like one of those mysteries that stays on for several chapters after it should have made its exit. (Jonathan Kellerman, for example, has been guilty of this quite often.) In The Likeness the very opposite is the truth: the novel starts getting even more interesting and engrossing from this point on, as we discover the why of the central, now shattering, fivefold friendship, and of the alternative it offered its participants to so much of what's just accepted in modern Ireland (and elsewhere). There's a huge struggle of wills and attitudes -- yes, and of identities -- going on in that final quarter of the book.

Much recommended, but you'd guessed that already.
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January 9, 2014 – Shelved
January 9, 2014 – Finished Reading

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