‘The Likeness’: A Tale of Two Lexies

“Some people are little Chernobyls, shimmering with silent, spreading poison: get anywhere near them and every breath you take will wreck you from the inside out.”

Tana French’s squad is based in Dublin, but it is rarely in the big city that things are at their most interesting. Once Cassie leaves the tall buildings and lands in the countryside, reality becomes more and more blurred. What is real ? What’s not ? What’s plausible, and does it still matter here ?

The Likeness can and does stand on its own, but it is still in many ways a continuation of In The Woods. Cassie is no longer a bystander; we get a full insight inside her mind. French’s prose is not as simple as when she takes on Rob’s identity. If the detective is still a practical person in every way, she lets herself glide into sentimentality more and more as her mission goes on. The book is as similar to the first one as it is different; exactly what a sequel should be.

Glenskehy, County Wicklow, isn’t a real place, but in Cassie’s world it is. It looks all but too ordinary from the outside: a small formerly feudal village primarily inhabited by farmers. But the things that happen here are far from what anyone would call normal. Cassie can feel the danger from miles away. And once she’s inside, she will have to face herself. Literally.

The Likeness is an investigation in every way. Cassie investigates Lexie’s murder as well as her life, and in doing so she comes face to face with herself. Lexie’s character is a fascinating one. Almost a ghost, but not quite; almost a real person, but not quite. This is not a story that needs a big ending. The charm of the book lies in the road that takes us there. Slipping into Lexie’s life comes with all its complications and mysteries, but also all its beauty. The little circle that Cassie takes part of is completely alien to her, but it’s also very comforting. Abby, Daniel, Rafe and Justin form a little family of their own. When it falls apart, it is just as heartbreaking for Cassie than for us.

French asks us questions without quite asking them, and gives even less answers. If you came face to face with your double, how would you react? If their life suited you, would you be able to go back to your own? Even if you’re not aware of their existence, would a part of you die when they do?

The novel is a compelling whodunnit where the answer is the least interesting part of the narrative. This is a story of one person. Or two; it’s hard to say who is who and what is what sometimes. It’s a weird little coming of age story, a crime, a fairytale, a twisted look into darkness. It’s everything we ask it to be and a thousand other things too. French builds an universe that isn’t afraid of leaving things behind and of making its reader feel uncomfortable. It is through this that it becomes a home. Even if it’s fake, even if we know the last page exists, it still feels comforting to be in it in the moment. It is a fleeting book, a collection of fragile moments, and it works in every single way. Crime has never been so poetic. Death has never been so beautiful. And Tana French has never been stronger.

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