Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tana French x 3

Sometime before the summer my friend E, E the editor ya know (the reason why I always yap on about how Important Editors Are, i.e. I'm sucking up to her) - anyway, E recommended Tana French, and said I might like her. I immediately borrowed all the books at the library, read them, felt they motivated a proper post with notes and stuff and never found the time. Now, looking over my drafts folder, I found a photograph of the novel In the Woods (her debut)

and a cryptic note about mattocks. The note reads as follows honesttogod:
Mattock I had never heard of the word, but last week I was reading articles about Phelps who abused his kids beating them with mattock and now the archaeologists in book are mattocking away
What in the name of the god (as my niece used to say) did I mean by that, you may ask. Well. I think I quickly jotted it down because it was one of those moments when something you've never heard of before suddenly pops up all over the place. I was reading articles about the young ones who've defected from Westboro Baptist Cult, went on to listen to parts of an interview with the Papa Phelps son who left a long time ago and is a very vocal criticiser, and he told about the abuse suffered by him and his siblings at the hands of this so-called minister. Among other things he beat them with a mattock, which I then had to look up because ignorant. The sick, twisted man that he was. So, like two days later I'm reading this book and hey, mattocks being used, as they were meant to be used.

Anyway, this has very little bearing on the book in question or indeed on the authorship of Tana French. Also, only found one picture, yous may make do.

I've read her three first novels, In The Woods, The Likeness and Faithful Place, and will probably read the next two if the library buys them (god I know I'm like a broken record with my library library library but hey, this is my life, I borrow more than I buy). They are all set in Dublin and center around different members of the Gardaí (Irish police). They get one book each, basically, which is good, coz then it's a series without it being a series (except it is, the Dublin Murder Squad series it's called I read somewhere), but at the same time if you're the kind of reader that wants one single hero detective to follow you'll be disappointed. In The Woods is about Rob Ryan, murder detective, who despite being Irish grew up in England and has the accent to prove it, to the delight of piss-takers everywhere. His accent camouflages his past - nobody knows that he is actually Adam Ryan,  the young boy who went into the woods behind their rural Dublin-ish estate one day with his two best friends and was found hours later, terrified and speechless, with his shoes full of blood and no memory of what happened to the other two. Now, adult detective Rob is called out to investigate the murder of a child, right next to the woods where something happened to himself twenty years ago. It's a really gripping murder mystery, although I think the reader is inevitably more interested in the mystery of Rob than the crime he and his partner Cassie are investigating. Perhaps that's the point? The murderer turns out to be rather obvious and the explanation is a bit heavy-handed in my opinion, so I wonder if plot suffered in favour of the inner workings of Ryan's mind. So the ending was a bit of a let-down to be honest.

The next book is The Likeness and now Rob's partner Cassie is our main character. She used to be an undercover police agent but gave it up when she got stabbed. One day her boyfriend, also a police detective on the murder squad, rings her and asks her to come out and look at a body. Turns out the corpse is the spit of Cassie, and not only that, has the identity that Cassie used when she worked undercover. What gives? Cassie heads undercover again, pretending to be the victim who has survived with memory loss, and infiltrates the group of friends our dead girl lived with in order to find the murderer. This one is absolutely well written and all but the characters of these students living together just don't really work for me. I get these Merchant and Ivory vibes that don't gel with Ireland at all. Granted, this is the point. But it doesn't gel. On the other hand, what do I know. French isn't Irish but has lived in Ireland permanently since 1990 after a globetrotter childhood, she studied at Trinity, she trained to be an actress there and surely should be more attuned to Irish society than I could ever claim to be. But still.

The next one then is Faithful Place and centers on Cassie's undercover agent police boss, Frankie Mackey. When Frank was 16 he was going to run away from home with his girlfriend Rosie, but she never showed up. After waiting, Frank left anyway and has never been back to Faithful Place. But then Rosie's suitcase is found in a derelict building on the street. Reluctantly Frank returns and makes contact with his family again, as Rosie's disappearance all those years ago, in Dublin of the 80s, becomes investigated as something suspicious instead of a voluntary escape to the freedom of - as everyone had assumed - London.

A lot of the interest for me in this is the description of what life was like for these very poor Dublin youths growing up well before any Tiger was seen in Ireland at all. The poverty, the religion, the feeling of being trapped, the abusive alcoholic father and no way out. It's not a bad family drama at all. All the same I'm not sure if the tone is altogether spot-on... I can't fault it really though. I liked it. I did like all three of the books, despite any quibbles, and I'd happily read more. Ken Bruen might feel more genuinely Irish in tone but Jesus he was an annoying writer so I'd rather have French any day.


E said...

We are Very Important Indeed.
Glad they weren't a complete waste of time. I agree with you on the solutions not always being exactly up to par with the rest - would LOVE to be the original editor and fight her on that.
Read her latest for work and it's quite strong as well!

Trattner said...

Faithful Place by Tana French is incredible writing, gives me chills.

Now I'm on page 300 of 429 of In the Woods.

Editors are important but what about writers who use none? What about writers who mindfully reread over and over before releasing it?

bani said...

Thanks for commenting, Trattner!:)

In general I think it's extremely helpful when writing to have someone else look over your work and check for inconsistencies and so on - so obviously an editor is just going to be a more professional someone. I also think that very few writers are gifted enough to self-edit, as it were. (Statistically speaking, most of us are average and mediocre people after all.) So if you mindfully read and reread your work I'm sure you'll catch (most) spelling errors and storyline bloopers, but an editor should also be able to give you other input - for example, to cut it short or flesh it out, to avoid your pet phrases. It all depends on how good the editor is of course. Let's see if E can chime in with some professional anecdotes from the publishing world ...