Faithful Place Digs its Claws Into You
By Vesuvius At Home on September 20, 2011
Life holds few pleasures that rival that of a new Tana French novel. I gleefully anticipate these absolute gems for months before their arrival. Once they're released and in my hands, I try my best to savor them like a delicacy, allowing myself a few pages at a time.
It never works. French's books demand your attention, and you happily surrender all of it. I sit down to enjoy a few pages and several hours later find myself in the same chair, breathless, completely absorbed, turning pages into the wee hours of the night.
French's books dig the reader so deep into a character's skin sometimes I forget where I end and the character begins. Faithful Place was no exception. The narrator, Frank Mackey, a working class tough turned cop, has been haunted all his life by a tragic shock he received in his youth. As you turn the pages, the event begins to haunt you too. French paints everything with such engaging brilliance -- the deep dysfunction of Frank's family, the bright hope of young love, the aching longing for what might have been, that you begin to root for these characters as if they are your friends. Frank took such a hold on my life that for months after finishing, I'd actually find myself wondering why Frank never comes around for dinner anymore. (Seriously, Frank. I'd like to know how you're doing, so.)
What haunted me so deeply about this book was the sense of paradise lost. Through Frank's eyes, French creates a vibrant and aching sense of what might have been. I found myself doing my own magical thinking -- the loss was so real to me that, like a grieving person, I maintained hope that perhaps just one detail might be changed. Perhaps we could somehow go back and set it all right again.
The mystery is wonderful, and French subtly and expertly creates a gripping suspense, but there's so much more than that to keep you hooked here—Frank's surprising sweetness with his young daughter, the decades-old grief that has obviously broken him and left him damaged forever. French gives us an intoxicating combination of layers. Frank maintains a hard-boiled demeanor but beneath his surface, the reader is privy to the deep and powerful emotions playing fast and loose with his soul. You feel great sympathy for him. You also feel a sort of giddy thrill at being brought along for the ride.
Then there's the Mackey family. The wonderfully dysfunctional Mackeys. French knits together an unforgettable family, characters who are all flawed and contentious and sometimes cruel. But French is too good a writer to leave them at that. We also see each character's unique struggle, their fumbling attempts to make good of the crap lives they've been handed. The entire thing -- lost love, working class Dublin, brutal childhoods -- finally culminates in an ending that is Shakespearean in its tragedy, and just smacks you off your feet.
Faithful Place, like all French's novels, just dig its claws into your skin and doesn't let go. Her books stay with me for years after I've finished them. Holding her stories is rather like Frank holding his beloved Rosie -- a precious, glittering thing that cannot last. I've done my best to sum up the pleasures of a Tana French novel, but there is something ineffable about them. Some unnameable quality that surpasses my ability to express.
I guess I'll call it magic.
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