Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Likeness

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The Likeness

A Novel

by Tana French

The Likeness by Tana French X
The Likeness by Tana French
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2008, 480 pages
    May 2009, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Patty Magyar

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Beyond the Book

Print Review

When Cassie sees a woman lying stabbed to death who looks exactly like her, with an ID that matches the identity she used for years as an undercover detective, it seems clear that she is looking at her own doppelganger.

  • The dictionary describes a doppelganger (or doubleganger, from the German for 'doublegoer' or lookalike) as a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person. In the vernacular the term has come to be used more loosely to describe any sort of double.
  • The doppelgangers of folklore are said to have no shadows or reflection (similar in some ways to vampires). They are inevitably bad news, being either malicious or a bad omen, often heralding death or a serious illness.
  • Doppelgangers appear quite frequently in fiction. R. L. Stevenson's Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey being notable examples.
  • Famous accounts of doppelgangers include Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Horla", which apparently tells of his own experience with a doppelganger. Prolific short story writer, Maupassant, considered by some the greatest French short story writer and often compared to Edgar Allan Poe, contracted syphilis in his 20s and died at the age of 43 having been committed to an asylum the year before.
  • Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler and contemporary of the poet John Donne, claims Donne met his wife's doppelganger shortly before his daughter was stillborn. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is said to have seen his doppelganger in a dream shortly before his death; and there are various reports that Lincoln saw his in a mirror shortly before his death.
  • Freud considered the doppelganger a figure that embodied the return of a repressed soul, a soul who has released what should always have been hidden.
  • Scientists at the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland have discovered that the treatment of epilepsy through the electrical stimulation of the brain can produce the sensation of a doppelganger's presence in the patient.

Article by Patty Magyar

This article was originally published in September 2008, and has been updated for the May 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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