There are times when trying on someone else's life for size seems like a very tempting idea. But how do you not lose yourself in it?
This book shredded my heart into tiny little pieces.
It made me reexperience that hollow, empty, lonely, lost feeling you have when you remember the intense and seemingly 'forever' friendships that have somehow, inexplicably just disintegrated.
It made me miss people who once were crucial in my life - and are not there any more, for one reason or another. And I miss them.
Here is one of my favorite quotes by Stephen King, another author who is excellent at depicting real friendship: "Maybe there aren't any such things as good friends or bad friends - maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you're hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they're always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that's what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart."
The Likeness is the second book in the series by Tana French, focusing on Cassie Maddox, the partner of Detective Rob Ryan from her first book, In The Woods. It's a rather standalone work, however, despite being a part of a series. The only reason you should even read In The Woods before this one is to appreciate the intense friendship that Cassie once shared with Rob, and her emotional scars and utter emptiness in the aftermath of the death of their friendship.
"I used to think I sewed us together at the edges with my own hands, pulled the stitches tight and I could unpick them any time I wanted. Now I think it always ran deeper than that and farther, underground; out of sight and way beyond my control."
This book is not about Rob; he is only here in Cassie's memories. It is about Cassie Maddox, the kickass Detective who in an attempt to pull herself together is on the verge of her own downward spiral, who in the attempt of recapturing of what she once had and creating something that she never had almost loses herself and everything that matters to her.
Yes, just like In The Woods, The Likeness is less of a crime whodunit (honestly, there's no reason why you would not figure out the killer's identity halfway through the book) and much more of a psychological f*ckery story, the attempt to explore people's inner desires and inner darkness - and the consequences of that.
"I wanted to tell her that being loved is a talent too, that it takes as much guts and as much work as loving; that some people, for whatever reason, never learn the knack."
If you have a problem with an unbelievable premise, this book will frustrate you to no end. Luckily for me, I can easily accept the unbelievable setup (after all, one of my favorite writers is China Miéville - 'nuff said). Cassie Maddox needs to go Undercover - to impersonate a dead woman who, by a strange coincidence, happens to be Cassie's almost perfect mirror image, the titular Likeness. And she needs to do that in front of dead woman's friends - her surrogate family. Not to mention that the dead woman in question has herself been impersonating Cassie's long-forgotten undercover identity from the past. Still with me? Still willing to see what happens next? Then this book should be just fine for you.
Unbelievable premise or not, once Cassie gets into the middle of action... Actually, scratch that. The whole point is Cassie getting away from the action and smack into the middle of an unusually intense family-like friendship that seems so old-fashioned and tranquil and based on the defiance of the rules of this fast-paced commercialized world.
"Our entire society is based on discontent. People wanting more and more and more. Being constantly dissatisfied with their homes, their bodies, their décor, their clothes, everything – taking it for granted that that’s the whole point of life. Never to be satisfied. If you are perfectly happy with what you got, especially if what you got isn’t even all the spectacular then you’re dangerous. You’re breaking all the rules. You’re undermining the sacred economy. You’re challenging every assumption that society is built on."
Daniel, Abby, Justin and Rafe. And Lexie/Cassie - still broken over Rob. This environment becomes seductive. It is beautiful - and yet with every page, right after seducing you into loving this quintet and giving them your heart, Tana French builds up a feeling of the inevitable doom of all of this, of the darkness lurking right under the surface, of the fleeting nature of everything that Cassie comes to hold dear in this new life. And this hurts - hurts a lot since French is so excellent at making you really CARE about her characters.
"Regardless of the advertising campaigns may tell us, we can't have it all. Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism; it's a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that's worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice."
Cassie Maddox is a lovely character. Hurt and broken, ready to latch onto something that has a promise of life and hope for her - and yet fiercely strong, independent and very capable. This is a woman who is shown to value true friendship and know love that is not exclusively romantic (unlike so many female protagonists in modern literature). She is a person who I'd be honored to be friends with, who I'd love to spend my evenings with, sipping wine and swapping stories (I'd skip on chain-smoking, however - just reading about the never-ending unfiltered cigarettes smoking makes me want to cough and get a chest x-ray to look for lung cancer).
"This much is mine, though: everything I did[...] Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons."
"I would've decided exactly the same way if you'd been standing right here," I said. "I'm a big girl, Sam. I don't need protecting."
And Ireland - I love French's portrayal of Ireland, allowing me to feel like I actually know something about this country, allowing me to feel a bit of its spirit and heart, both good and bad aspects of it. The little mentions of Irish women having to take the ship to England if they wanted an abortion for instance - I actually had no idea, and this threw in a little reality check on my newly developed love for Irish landscapes. Or the frequent allusions to the consequences of the economic boom - the unaffordable housing, the dead-end jobs, the worship of money - all thrown in the middle of the story, firmly grounding it in the 'real world' - the concept that some of the characters of this story do have an issue with. This portrayal of Ireland, the setting of the scene for the story is so nicely achieved, creating an immersing atmosphere, and I applaud French for job well-done.
Tana French paints a vivid and beautiful scenery in this book. She creates moods that are almost palpable, dripping with life. She may be a bit wordy at times - but somehow that does not seem excessive. And her characterization is just superb, in my humbled opinion."I wanted to tell her that being loved is a talent too, that it takes as much guts and as much work as loving; that some people, for whatever reason, never learn the knack."I loved this book even though it has stolen quite a few hours of sleep from me. I loved everything about it, even the sadness it made me feel at the end. I will miss it, and it will stay with me for quite a long time. 5 stars.
And here is my review for the first book in the series, In the Woods.The third book in the series, Faithful Place, is reviewed here. And you can find the review for Broken Harbour, the fourth book in the series, right here.