To read a Tana French novel is an experience that involves
understanding the heart and soul of each of her fabulously
flawed characters. Her characters are endowed with major
personal issues, seeming to live on the outskirts of
society's mandates due to life crises that have changed and
damaged them irrevocably. Cassie Maddox, the main character
in The Likeness, is complex and disturbed. She
travels from one turbulent life event to another without any
time to mend her wounded being. She is a loner, has issues
from her childhood and seems to be drawn to other similarly
Her parents were killed when she was a small child so she was raised by kindly but emotionally detached relatives who provided everything she needed but familial love. She became involved with an extremely popular fellow student at her university who wanted to control her. When she broke off this relationship she was hazed by fellow students and ultimately left her university without a degree. She drinks and smokes and rides an old Vespa, and appears to live her life in a reckless manner. This risk taking approach to life causes her to completely assume the identity and lifestyle of the murder victim, including moving in to live with Lexie's former housemates who believe Lexie was wounded, but not fatally.
When I first began reading The Likeness I questioned how feasible it would be to assume another's identity. The author leads us to believe that, in the circumstances, it was quite easy for Cassie to do so. Hair, mannerisms, clothing can be learned (Cassie had access to a number of videos of Lexie), but inevitably there are small errors and issues that Cassie is unaware of - little slips here and there that the author handles in acceptable ways but which left me wondering if I would be as accepting of Cassie as the housemates are.
The heart of The Likeness is the relationship with Cassie and her housemates. She steps into the life of Lexie, the murder victim, almost flawlessly. There is a need in Cassie that allows her to be enveloped into the lifestyle of the house and its occupants. As she absorbs herself ever further into Lexie's life and delves deeper into what made Lexie's relationship with her four housemates work so well for so long, she begins to feel a dangerous comfort level as well as a familial feeling and affection for her housemates who enjoy a communal lifestyle with few boundaries that is extremely appealing to Cassie. Ultimately this "marriage" of sorts has to end the detective in Cassie comes to the forefront as she urges her housemates into a confrontation. The after effects of this are sad and disturbing and the course of five lives is forever changed.
Readers expecting a light distracting English/Irish mystery might be a bit disappointed in this book. I found myself reading and rereading passages to reassure myself that I knew what events were occurring and why. This did not detract from the book's essential story but did make it more than light reading. Tana French's style of writing is unique to her in its intensity and her fascination with developing characters. After reading her first book, In the Woods, and The Likeness I will need a romp with a few English tea-drinking murderers who are not complex and have nothing to hide, before I tackle her next book. But I am certain of one thing - I will tackle it!
This review 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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