Faithful Place: Where Noir Meets Literature

BlogHer Review

Synopsis: Undercover detective Frank Mackey was determined to keep himself and his daughter away from the dysfunction of his family and old neighborhood. He made his escape at the age of nineteen, when he was supposed to run away with his girl and start a new life in London. Instead he found what appeared to be a Dear John letter. Twenty-two years later, Rosie Daly's suitcase is discovered, and Frank is forced to go home to find out the truth about the night Rosie never showed.

It's been a long time since I've read a novel. Life circumstances just made it so that my nightstand has accumulated piles of books about loss, faith, and infertility. I was almost worried -- in a mildly alarming and probably irrational way -- that maybe I'd forgotten how to read fiction. But as I started reading Tana French's Faithful Place, I slipped into the story with such ease it felt almost like I was one of her characters, watching lives unravel through lace curtains.

The story unfolds in the classic film noir style: cinematic descriptions, flashbacks and reconstructions that weave in and out of the present, an undercover cop protagonist, Frank Mackey, who becomes entangled in a past he tried to escape over twenty-two years ago. A major difference between this story and film, though, is that I didn't figure out who did what until French was good and ready for me to find out. Frank's narration is just the right amount of obsessive and undercover emotions simmering under a tough Dubliner exterior, and the writing has just the right amount of subtle and devious to stay two steps ahead of you as the plot unfolds.

The pacing sometimes slowed just a few points before wondering, "Why am I still reading?" However, I felt like I was so much in Frank's mind that I have to believe this was purposeful on French's part. And my patience was amply rewarded by such gems as the beginning of chapter ten, which had me laughing so loud it rang through my bedroom (I am usually more inclined to laugh "on the inside" or "in my head" than vocally): "…Holly begged me into taking her to the Christmas ice rink in Ballsridge. Holly skates like a fairy and I skate like a gorilla with neurological issues, which of course is a bonus for her" (159).

There is also tenderness in this story, which French is able to seamlessly blend into the sharp edges of murder, beatings by a drunken father, a woman who had been "trained" not to scream (291), and a family held together more by cultural obligation than love and affection. Frank's recollection of saying "I love you" for the first time oozed, in the best way, the longing and wistfulness one would expect from recounting the source of one's first heartbreak: "I had never said it before. I know that I would never say it again, not really; that you only get one shot at it in a lifetime. I got mine out of nowhere on a misty autumn evening, under a street lamp shining yellow streaks on the wet pavement, with Rosie's strong pliable fingers woven through mine" (207).

Frank's flaws, imperfections, and self-realizations are exposed and magnified in ways that make him both charming and repugnant, both relatable and alien. French is able to elevate a genre-character into someone who must exist, who must be real. For me, this is what really makes this story.

After I finished the book, I was surprised to close the cover with a sigh that felt like satisfaction. Many a time, I've felt a story was ruined by the ending or that it didn't give me enough. In traditional film noir fashion, the conflicts in the story were not resolved and wrapped up nice and tidily with a neat little bow. But it felt right—right for Faithful Place and for its inhabitants, who continue to rattle around in my brain.