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Recommended Reading (Fiction): The Likeness, by Tana French

May 12, 2010

I first encountered Tana French’s The Likeness when I learned that the twitches and twists and jumpiness and general anxiety resulting from my rape was not just all in my head.  I learned that it had a name, that it was PTSD, and that it would be a long time, possibly, before I would begin to get over it – that in reality I might not get over it at all, that I might just be a fucking jumpy person for the rest of my life.

I first encountered Tana French’s The Likeness when I needed it the most.  Because French’s heroine, Detective Cassie Maddox, is also suffering from something like PTSD.  She is a tough, powerful woman who is living with a condition that has come on suddenly, and that makes her feel anything but tough.  French’s ability to describe that condition, and Cassie’s ability to survive it, to live with it and thrive, hit home for me.  I needed someone who could explain to me what I was feeling, because I sure as hell couldn’t.  I needed someone to reassure me that I wasn’t made entirely of glass, or styrofoam, or pure air.  Identifying with a heroine who felt my pains helped me to see myself as solid again, as a complete person who could perform activities both simple and complex without dying, without hurting.

The Likeness is a good read, a good novel.  But that isn’t really why I’m recommending it.  I’m recommending it because, at its heart, it’s a novel that exists to tell the story of a woman who is real, who is solid – but who doesn’t feel like she is.  It tells the story of a woman who has spent so much time inhabiting other identities that she isn’t sure anymore what pieces are Cassie and what pieces belong to someone else.  In other words, she’s going through the identity crisis that so many feminist women endure – the recognition that sometimes we don’t recognize ourselves, that sometimes all the strength and power we want to hold in our hands is still just out of reach, that sometimes the hands that shake and twitch are the ones that are truly capable.

Right now there are plenty of people out there singing the praises of that old MTV favorite, Daria. And I’m excited about the DVD-release of our favorite bespectacled 90’s girl, really I am.  But the same sense of “oh my god that’s me” that so many ladies had the first time they saw Daria – that’s the feeling I have when I read about Cassie.  And I have a feeling some other ladies out there might recognize her too.

It’s a good read, I promise.  For more on the actual plot (since this is my non-traditional can’t-be-bothered-to-explain-it-to-you book review), check out the New York Times article on it.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. ImTheMarigold permalink
    May 12, 2010 1:54 pm

    Thanks for the rec! I was going to stop at the bookstore on my way home for something new to read on vaca next week, and this might make the list. Any other suggestions? I do don’t fluff reading often, even on vaca, so any kind of idea is welcome.

    • ImTheMarigold permalink
      May 12, 2010 7:32 pm

      So…….I bought it on the way home tonight. And I saw its sister book on the shelf next to it but the back of The Likeness didn’t scream SEQUEL so I only bought The Likeness. Now that I’m on the couch and reading the NY Times review it sounds like reading the first book would give me a lot of insight into Cassie. Did you read the first one as well? Should I go buy it and read it first?

      • May 13, 2010 2:03 am

        It’s sort of hard to explain, actually. You don’t HAVE to read In The Woods to understand what’s happening in The Likeness. Cassie basically explains things for you at the beginning, to catch you up. HOWEVER, having an understanding of what happens to her in the first book, and how she reacts to it, definitely makes her mental state in the second book all the more familiar. Either way, In The Woods is an equally good read; I just happen to identify with Cassie more than with the narrator of In The Woods. If you’re looking for more than one thing to read, I’d go for both. But if you had to choose one, The Likeness is def the better book.

        The other thing is that, since you’re on vacation, I should point out that the atmosphere of In The Woods is much, much darker. There were times when I was reading it that it sort of haunted me, a little. While some tough stuff happens in The Likeness, it’s not nearly as dark overall.

        Did that make any sense at all?

        I’m a huge mystery hound, so when I’m on vacation I read a lot of Ruth Rendell, too. Her non-series novels are good page-turners without being too much of a downer. The characters are sort of funny and entertaining and they really jump off the page.

  2. ImTheMarigold permalink
    May 13, 2010 9:04 am

    Thanks for the info! I just don’t want to read The Likeness first and have it spoil what happened in the previous book, ya know? Sort of like reading Harry Potter out of order. I’m trying really hard not to start reading it now; just need to make it to the airport on Sunday and then I can dive in!

  3. David French permalink
    May 13, 2010 9:46 am

    That’s painful but lovely. Tana is my daughter and I think she’d like to see this — I’m sending it on to her.

    • May 13, 2010 10:28 am

      Mr. French,

      Thank you so much. I would be happy for her to know that her book helped me through a hard time.

  4. David French permalink
    May 13, 2010 10:42 am

    Tana’s response after reading your piece:

    “Yep, the PTSD was deliberate. Glad someone caught it :-)”

    I’ll pass on your note about the ways the book helped at a hard time. That must be both humbling and gratifying for an author to know.

    – David

  5. David French permalink
    May 26, 2010 7:13 pm

    I wrote Tana that you’d be happy for her to know that her book helped you through a hard time. Tana wrote back, “If you end up commenting on that blog again, you can tell her that I worked really hard trying to get Cassie’s PTSD (or some variant on it) right, and I’m very glad it rang a bell. I’m bowled right over by the thought that it made a difference to someone who’s fighting the battle that the blogger is fighting, the battle to reclaim herself, and doing it with so much courage and passion and thought. I have a feeling we would like each other.” – David

    • May 26, 2010 11:59 pm

      Thank you so much for telling me that, David. Her work was definitely worth it. She got the condition spot on, and it’s great to know that she’s now aware that her attention to detail paid off.

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