We Could All Use A Little Faithful Place
"Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was a nineteen year old kid with a dream of escaping his family's cramped flat on Faithful Place and running away to London with his girl, Rosie Daly," begins the back cover of Faithful Place by Tana French. The book itself starts out twenty-two years later as Frank is called back to his old neighborhood for the first time by his sister to deal with an emergency.
Frank did leave Faithful Place as a nineteen year old, but not with Rosie. She ditched him that night, and he never made it to London. He did find a way out, however, and now he is a cop in Dublin with an ex-wife and a nine year old daughter, staying as far away from his family as possible -- periodic interactions with his sister being his only method of staying in touch.
The book starts off as though it will be a mystery, focusing on solving the mystery of the suitcase that was discovered in the fireplace of the abandoned house teens used to frequent on Faithful Place. The suitcase that Frank immediately recognizes as the one Rosie had been planning to take with her the night she was to run away with him. Though the mystery deepens with additional criminal acts, the book is far more than a simple mystery novel.
Frank has depth to him. He isn't allowed to work the case -- and doesn't get along well with the detective assigned to it, a man Frank went through training with -- both because of his close connections to those involved and because it isn't his department, but he's not allowed to let that stop him. As he's forced to return to Faithful Place, he's forced to interact with his family again and start to deal with the issues he had with them while finding a new perspective on who they are and how to deal with them. He also has a genuine relationship with both his ex-wife and his daughter, Holly. It's endearing to see him interacting with Holly, trying his best to parent her while seeing her periodically and working a job that frequently tears him away from the time he is supposed to spend with her.
I loved feeling like this book wasn't focused purely on the mystery of Rosie but instead focused more on the person of Frank -- his issues and insecurities, his foibles and career expertise. It is not at all trite or expected. As easy as it is to nod along with Frank as he's making his assumptions, it's that easy to be surprised by the twists and turns throughout the book just as he's punched in the gut by them. At the beginning of the book, I was intrigued that the book featured a male character, as I don't often read books that have male protagonists because so often they are shallow caricatures. This absolutely wasn't.
Tana French did a wonderful job portraying the different personalities present in the various haunts Frank visits. Olivia, his ex-wife, has a proper demeanor with the phrasing and diction I'm used to reading and speaking. When he heads into Faithful Place, however, it quickly degenerates to a language I almost -- but not quite -- can't understand, as the lower class Irish gather together. The attitude he expresses and language he uses with the other cops is altogether different but completely fits. It's unusual that an author has enough facility with language and dialects to pull that off, nor the interest in exploring the diverse worlds in which so many of their characters should inhabit to share the full picture of who they are.
This is by no means a quick read or a light read. It's 400 pages, and I'll be honest that it took me awhile to get fully into reading it. Even while I was enjoying it, this was a book that I read in dribs and drabs. The chapters were long -- or perhaps it seemed that way because reading them was mentally exhausting. I don't mean that as a criticism of the book, as I actually really enjoyed it. This was simply not a book where I could sit down with it and look up three hours later realizing that I'd finished the book but nothing else I was supposed to have done during that time. I needed to digest it or take a break from it or something.
This isn't a happy book, but it's a complete book. It's one I'm glad that I read, and I wish that more books had the depth of characters and their worlds that Faithful Place does. This is her third novel, her previous two being NY Times best sellers. I think I've once again found an author whose other books I want to read -- and what better recommendation for a book can there be?