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29th April
2009
written by Steph
Well, I certainly did like it!

Well, I certainly did like it!

Remember a while back when I read In The Woods and really enjoyed it… and then fell into a deep reading funk?  I blame Tana French.  Only in the best possible way of course, but it’s still her fault I haven’t really been able to pick up a book since then.  Certain books are just so engaging and engrossing that when they’re done, you feel bereft and have a hard time switching gears and starting something new.  Plus, when they’re as good as In The Woods, finding another book that will stand up to what you’ve just read is pretty tough. I think part of the reason why I’d been dragging my feet to read a new book is because immediately upon finishing In The Woods, I wanted to start French’s follow-up novel, The Likeness.  And you should all have your ears prick up at this, because you know I tend not to go on author-related reading benders, no matter how much I like said author's body of work.  In this case, I didn’t own The Likeness so I couldn't just dive right back in.  And my local library branch’s copy was out, meaning that after I put a hold on it, I had to wait for it to get transferred in from some other branch.  And then when it showed up, I had already started reading another book that wasn’t working for me at the time (I think because I was mentally holding out for this book), and then I had my top secret reading project that had to have top priority, so The Likeness sat on the floor in our front hallway for almost two weeks before I could give it the time of day.  Let me tell you, the wait may have been long and tortuous, but it was totally worth it because The Likeness absolutely delivers. The book picks up six months after the events of In The Woods have wrapped up, but don’t worry if you’re crazy and for some reason don’t want to read that first book – you’ll still be able to follow what’s going on here, and while it does deal with certain major plot elements of the first novel in passing (there’s a lot of emotional collateral damage resulting from that case), it doesn’t spoil any of the specific case details, so you could always go back and read In The Woods after the fact and not have it ruined for you.  Anyway, In The Woods was primarily Rob Ryan’s tale, but it also featured his partner Cassie Maddox, who is now the star of The Likeness.  No longer with the Murder squad, she one day gets called to a site only to find the body of a murdered girl who is her exact double.  What’s even creepier, this dead girl has been going by the name Lexie Madison – an identity that Cassie and her boss Frank cooked up back when she was working as an undercover agent.  With no leads and even less evidence at the crime scene, it’s up to Cassie to become Lexie Madison once more, inhabiting the dead girl’s life in order to discover why Lexie was killed and by whom… let’s just hope it wasn’t one of her four roommates AND that Cassie can manage to resist the allure of leaving her old life behind... Honestly, I don’t have much to say about The Likeness that I didn’t already say about In The Woods!  I really enjoyed the book a lot; I devoured its 400+ pages in just a few days, and happily read it for hours on end, unable to wait to find out what would happen next.  The writing was perhaps even better than the first book (I feel like French has really found her stride), and was arrestingly lovely at times.  I think the prose in this book impressed me more than in the first, and even though it had the page-turning fun of a thriller, it felt more like literature than In The Woods did; it was more refined, more thoughtful.  French delves deeper into the sticky emotions of her characters and ultimately the book thoughtfully investigates ideas of identity, family, loneliness, and how the past shapes us all… it just happens to have a murder thrown in!  I watched an interview with French on Amazon and she talked about how important it is to her to create three-dimensional characters who draw her readers in, and I think this is why her novels are so successful.  The writing is incredibly strong, luminous even, and yet it is her characters that really suck you in and make this a 360° reading experience. You spend so much time in their heads (The Likeness is a long book, after all) that you can’t help but feel like they’re living flesh and blood people.  What I loved about The Likeness is that it felt like returning to visit with an old friend.  For all the novelty of the book it felt familiar, and the characters rang true and genuine, just like I had remembered them.  Where I felt In The Woods had a bit of a slow build up, I immediately felt like I was catapulted into the story and transported away within the first few pages. Overall, I do think The Likeness is a stronger book than In The Woods – the writing is better, the pacing is better (even though the case moves slowly, it felt like everything you were learning could later be important so it wasn’t 150 pages of dead end nonsense), the main character is maybe even more interesting than the last one, the deeper questions the mystery gets at are even more thoughtful… The only place it trips up is the central mystery itself and the resolution.  For some reason, although I was really into discovering all the details involved in this weird case, when they were finally revealed to me, I just found the motivation for the murder (as well as who done it) to be less than satisfying and, in a way, it felt like an afterthought.  After all the buildup, the ending here felt less clever than I had expected, just kind of obvious, or perhaps uninteresting is a better word.  That said, I still loved the whole experience of reading this book.  It is the closest I have gotten in quite a while to the transportive reading experiences I recall from when I was younger, where I’d get utterly absorbed in a book and read the entire day away.  I became completely ensconced in the world French had created, in her characters' minds, as my own world faded away.  I think it is a rare author who is skilled enough to do that, but Tana French is certainly on that list for me.  The Likeness is a book that is haunting and grim, but it is also pensive and lovely, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to give it a read. (My one warning is that the books may make you feel compelled to talk like a foul-mouthed leprechaun, but I quite liked that... 😉 ). My only problem now?  Figuring out what to read while she finishes writing that third book!  It’s going to be a looong wait… Rating: 4.5 out of 5

11 Comments

  1. 04/29/2009

    I am glad that you finally got to read this one. It seemed like you were really eager to get back into this story, and I am glad it did not disappoint you. Now I have two more books for my list! Thanks for the awesome review. Glad to have you back!

  2. 04/29/2009

    Another great review – and this seems like a great read, too. It makes me want to read “In the Woods” even more. I think I’ll put it a little higher in my “To be read” list – maybe they’ll finally have it at the library?

  3. 04/29/2009

    Well I just saw this over at the library today and even picked it up but put it back for some other titles. I remembered your older Tana French review while browsing through it, but forgot if it was this or In the Woods. Anyway, again, you are making me want to read this, but I think I’ll wait for the third installment before I read all three? I still have to read Jasper Fforde, you know. Lol.

  4. 04/29/2009

    @zibilee: It feels good to be back! Although, now I really am a bit flummoxed about what I should read next. Nothing seems like it will be so absorbing! Hopefully I can pick something soon.
     
    @ kittykay: I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on In The Woods. I think you’ll like it.
     
    @ claire: I think the books are sufficiently stand alone that you could get away with not marathoning them one after the next (it’s not a series in the traditional sense)… but that being said, I’d love to just have more books by French that I could plow through right now! Knowing that the third one isn’t out yet (and probably won’t be for a while) does nothing to dispel my hunger… but I can’t wait for you to read Fforde. It’s definitely lighter stuff, but really fun stuff.

  5. 04/29/2009

    I’ve been unfair to “In the Woods.” I was really excited to read it until I read ONE luke-warm review of it, and I’ve been putting it off ever since. Shame on me! I’m bumping that up the TBR list. And then I’ll make room for this one.

    Great review!

  6. 04/30/2009

    I think the reviews on In The Woods were a bit more mixed than they have been for The Likeness. With ITW there are two major mysteries floating about, and they don’t both get completely resolved, so I think that’s why people had a problem with it. I personally wasn’t bothered by it, because I think everything else was tied up satisfactorily, but then again, I also had read enough about the book going in to know that it would have a neat and tidy ending. Perhaps if I’d had other expectations I would have felt ripped off, but as it was, I felt satisfied with what I got.

  7. Eva
    05/16/2009

    I read this during the read-a-thon, and I enjoyed it (although not quite as much as you!). I have a thing for weird uber-academic students in fiction, I guess, lol. If you haven’t read The Secret History, you might try out that one too!

  8. 05/16/2009

    I have The Secret History sitting on my shelf and definitely want to read it as I too have a thing for fiction revolving around academia! Based on some tips I received, however, I think I may read Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend, first (as many people seem to compare the two novels and TLF suffers as a result!).

  9. […] Steph & Tony Investigate! […]

  10. 07/12/2010

    I liked it too.

    And I have linked your review with mine:

    The Likeness by Tana French

  11. 07/13/2010

    @ gautami: Thanks for linking to my review! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the book so much, even though you hadn’t read In The Woods (though you really should! It’s great!). I’m sure you’ll enjoy her next book, Faithful Place, too!

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