Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November Book Review Club

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@Barrie Summy

Barely awake after election night, of course. But regardless of how we all feel about the vote, we can agree on one thing: IT'S OVER. And now, free of campaign commercials and phone calls from pollsters, we can get back to what's important: putting our feet up for a good read. Enjoy!

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The Likeness
By Tana French
Gotta love the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who also philosophized on art in general. He’s the one who coined the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief”—if a writer endows a fantastical tale with “human interest and a semblance of truth,” the reader will meet him halfway and suspend skepticism.

Tana French manages this feat in The Likeness, but only just. If you can overlook the implausibility of her premise, the characters and suspense in this book will reward you. If you can’t, you probably won’t make it past page fifty. 

Set in Ireland, The Likeness features a strong secondary character in French’s debut novel, In the Woods. In the first book, Cassie Maddox was part of a trio of young murder investigators who were drawn into a sinister web of deceit and barely made it out with souls intact. As this book begins, Cassie’s reaction has been to transfer to Domestic Violence and try to sublimate her thirst for perilous investigation.  

It all works fine until her boyfriend (also one of the original trio) calls her to a murder scene. Surprise number one is that the murder victim’s name—Lexie Madison—is the fake one Cassie had assumed in a long-ago undercover investigation of a drug ring. Surprise number two (disbelief alert) is that the victim looks exactly like Cassie.  

Cassie’s boss in the undercover operation, the charismatic oddball Frank Mackey, knows just how to push Cassie’s buttons. He persuades her to undertake an exceptionally risky deception, telling Lexie’s four housemates that she survived a brutal attack and will be home after a stay in the hospital. After an intense training session, aided by cell phone tapes and photos of Lexie’s life with her housemates, Cassie begins the deception. 

The five housemates, all graduate students, have a claustrophobically close relationship centered on their house, which was inherited by one of them, Daniel. They study together, eat together, carpool in to the university and home again, and spend blissful evenings together by the fireside.  Their one rule is “no pasts”—nobody gets to talk about anything that happened before they all met.  

Cassie, still raw from the events of the earlier book, finds herself attracted to the group’s closeness and sense of family. French is brilliant in tracing the slow unraveling of her defenses, to the point where she starts to “become” Lexie—who, you’ll recall, was a made-up person to begin with. It’s an absorbing and mostly satisfying process for the reader. 

The unlikeliness of the premise is a flaw in this book, but not a fatal one. I also felt that there were a few too many loose ends where the housemates were concerned, and never was satisfied that I understood why the dead girl chose the name of Cassie’s made-up alter ego. Nevertheless, this is a book you can sink into—so deeply that you forget there’s an election—and this fall that was worth a lot. 

I’m dying to read French’s next book, Broken Harbor, which follows the nut-job undercover boss, Frank Mackey.  

Dear FCC: I got this book for my birthday. 



Barrie said...

Love your intro about the elections being over! ;) Hey, did you read Kelly Haye's (my critique partner) review of Broken Harbor? Here's the link:
In terms of getting past an implausible premise, sometimes I can do it; sometimes I can't. So....the only sure way to know is to give it a try. ;) Thanks for reviewing, Ellen. Always good to *see* you. ;)

Sarah Laurence said...

Your opening line about the elections and reading made me laugh.

Yes, it's funny how an unrealistic premise makes a novel less believable even if the whole thing is made up. The trick is making fiction seem real. Terrific review!

Rose said...

I'm like Barrie; sometimes I can "suspend disbelief" and other times can't. From your review, it sounds as though there is enough to hook the reader in spite of it. I'm always up for a good mystery!

And yes, hallelujah, no more annoying phone calls and no more negative campaign ads on TV!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I know this is your November book but I had to agree with you. I just never could buy into the idea her friends wouldn't know it was another person. There are too many individual tics that give someone away. It just spoiled the entire book for me and yet I know a woman who claims it is her favorite French book

Ellen Booraem said...

I'm looking forward to the next one, which sounds amazing.

Sorry I was late posting my review! The December one us up now...