I haven’t decided what my next Learning from the Masters lesson will be. So for today, I’m asking a very important question…
Apologies for the longer-than-expected hiatus! It’s been quite the busy week and a half. Changes are coming my way. Which is terrifying, but good. I hope. More on that later.
Today I want to talk about the reason I bawled myself to sleep last night. Unsurprisingly, it was because of a book.
Is this book worth the hype?
In which I attempt to put my feelings about my favorite book of all time into words.
I discovered Tana French one summer day while wandering around Central Park on my lunch break. I picked up In The Woods because it sounded interesting (also, the cover was cool). I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I reviewed that amazing book here. (Do not go past the jump as there are SPOILERS and that book is so wonderful you must read it unspoiled.)
In The Woods is the story of Rob, a 30-something detective in Ireland, solving a case with his partner Cassie. Full disclosure: I’m not necessarily a detective novel person. But these books are so much more than simply detective novels. They’re psychological thrillers, in-depth character studies, devastating, realistic portraits of humanity, all composed of the most beautiful prose I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
And God the taste of undercover on my tongue again, the brush of it down the little hairs on my arms. I’d thought I remembered what it was like, every detail, but I’d been wrong: memories are nothing, soft as gauze against the ruthless razor-fineness of that edge, beautiful and lethal, one tiny slip and it’ll slice to the bone.
In The Woods ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, to put it mildly. So when I was told there was a sequel told from Cassie’s point of view, I obviously picked it up ASAP.
Except The Likeness isn’t exactly a sequel. You can read it without reading In The Woods–but don’t. So much of what happened in that book affects Cassie’s behavior in this one, and to skip that one is to miss out on so much of the beautifully woven threads that make up The Likeness.
I will have to get spoiler-y to talk about my love for this book but I will save it for after the jump.
So why should you read this book?
The Goodreads summary is brief:
Six months after the events of In the Woods, an urgent telephone call beckons detective Cassie Maddox to a grisly crime scene. The victim looks exactly like Cassie and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl, but, more importantly, who she is.
So the plot of this book requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Cassie finds the body of Lexie, who is identical to her in every way. So in an effort to find out who killed Lexie, Cassie goes undercover as her.
And she succeeds.
I would like to think that if some other person were to step into my life as me, the people I love would notice. So yes. Suspension of disbelief. But this book is so good you just don’t even care.
Tell me this beginning doesn’t hook you:
This is Lexie Madison’s story, not mine. I’d love to tell you one without getting into the other, but it doesn’t work that way. I used to think I sewed us together at the edges with my own hands, pulled the stitches tight and I could unpick them any time I wanted. Now I think it always ran deeper than that and farther, underground; out of sight and way beyond my control.
This much is mine though; everything I did. Frank puts it all down to the others, mainly to Daniel, while as far as I can tell Sam thinks that, in some obscure and slightly bizarro way, it was Lexie’s fault. When I say it wasn’t like that, they give me careful sideways looks and change the subject–I get the feeling Frank thinks I have some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome. That does happen to undercovers sometimes, but not this time. I’m not trying to protect anyone; there’s no one left to protect. Lexie and the others will never know they’re taking the blame and wouldn’t care if they did. But give me more credit than that. Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons.
Lexie lived with her best friends, four other students in a rambling old mansion outside of Dublin. So Cassie moves in with them. And gets so caught up in their world, their strange, flawed, intertwined lives, that solving the mystery of who killed Lexie nearly becomes secondary to her.
“That kind of friendship doesn’t just materialize at the end of the rainbow one morning in a soft-focus Hollywood haze. For it to last this long, and at such close quarters, some serious work had gone into it. Ask any ice-skater or ballet dancer or show jumper, anyone who lives by beautiful moving things: nothing takes as much work as effortlessness.”
People have compared this novel to The Secret History and it’s true there are a tremendous amount of similarities. Brilliant, eccentric students, a dead body, secrets, etc. But the difference is that every character in the Secret History is such a horrible human being to the point where you struggle to believe they could even exist. In contrast, Daniel, Abby, Rafe, and Justin are real, they’re funny, they’re lovely, they’re devastatingly flawed. Like Cassie, I fell in love with each and every one of them. I wanted to climb inside this book and live there.
“And then there’s its hair,” Justin said, pushing the vegetables across to me. “Don’t forget the hair. It’s horrible.”
“It’s wearing a dead person’s hair,” Rafe informed me. “If you stick a pin in the doll, you can hear screaming coming from the graveyard. Try it.”
“See what I mean?” Abby said, to me. “Wusses. It’s got real hair. Why he thinks it’s from a dead person—”
“Because your poppet was made in about 1890 and I can do subtraction.”
It’s the relationships between these people that really get to you. (The Irishness of them all is pretty cool, too.) Above all, this is a story of friends who love each other. It’s the kind of love that generally gives way to family and spouse love as people grow up and get married and have children. Friendship love. Tana French has said:
I’m fascinated by friendship … I think it’s possible to be a healthy, fulfilled human being without a partner or children, but I’m not sure it’s possible to be a whole, healthy human being without good friends, so I’ve always been interested in the intensity of friendship and the dangers that can come with that. Great friendships are incredibly powerful, passionate things and I think it’s explored less in fiction than the danger that might come in romantic or family relationships.
And it’s simply this–friendship–that makes this book so powerful. That–and how easily it can break.
When you’re too close to people, when you spend too much time with them and love them too dearly, sometimes you can’t see them. Unless Daniel was bluffing, he had made one last mistake, the same one he had been making all along. He was seeing the other four not as they were but as they should have been, could have been in some softer-edged and warmer world.
If you haven’t read this book, go do so immediately. (After reading In The Woods.)
If you have read this book and want to hear me blather about it some more, read on…
SPOILERS BELOW. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THIS BOOK.
What would you say the goal of writing a novel is?
I’m back after a long, amazing weekend at Lake Sacandaga in upstate New York. I missed a few days due to no wifi at all (which can be quite nice) but now I’m back and it’s Tuesday which means it’s time for a book review.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is one of the best books I read last year. You should read it too. Here’s why…
I like being drunk. On booze, on fiction, on writing, on love, on beautiful sentences. Maybe that’s why I’m so discontent on a daily basis; my day job can be quite sobering most of the time.
At least it’s Friday. Here are my 3 things for the week.
1. I adore Tumblr. Have I mentioned that? Nearly everything good I find on the internet (like the image above) either comes from or has some point been on Tumblr. What’s more, people are nice to each other there. Come join me: there’s my personal Tumblr, where I blog photos, quotes, and a mini-journal. Then there’s the Tumblr I started just to record all my favorite sentences.
2. This article on why it’s important for writers to talk about where their money comes from really spoke to me.
3. I admit I don’t read fanfiction but I know how big a thing it is (I am on Tumblr, after all). I even downloaded Wattpad to look into it more. But … I just can’t find anything I want to get into. The problem is that I like my writing polished and my prose beautiful, and Wattpad is full of first drafts. Also, when I read poorly written fiction, it tends to seep into my own writing. Am I being snobby? Is there good stuff on Wattpad? Anyway, this article is really helpful for those who are curious on the entire phenomena.
Reading: I just finished The Beginning of Everything and I have mixed feelings. I just started Isla and the Happily Ever After and I’m already sure I’m going to love it as much as Stephanie Perkins’s other two novels. If you’re looking for light but well-written, romantic YA, pick all her books up immediately.
Watching: I just started watching Sherlock on Netflix. I have no idea what took me so long.
Listening to: Radical Face. It’s lovely and haunting.
Image found here
All of it is true.
It can be hard, as a writer, to keep that in mind–you have the whole story to keep in your mind–so polishing (or demolishing and rewriting) your opening is something best done at the editing stage. Once your whole story is down on paper, go back to that beginning (after taking a break from the manuscript so you’re looking at it with fresh eyes) and ask yourself–if I were a reader, would I pick up this book based on this first page?
I’m not going to rehash the advice in the articles I linked to–go read them for yourself. Instead, here is the beginning of one of my favorite books of all time. I’ll post it, then we can discuss why it’s so great. I think I’ll make this a regular thing.
I’ve had a very long week and thought many times about running away from my life like the dude in the picture above. I know I’m lucky to have a good job with a good company that pays me more than enough to live on, but sometimes the soul-sucking hours spent in a windowless cubicle working on things that really don’t matter at all can get to me.
Even bad weeks have high points; here are some of mine:
1. I finally got around to watching the film version of Never Let Me Go, which was just as devastating as I’d expected after reading the book a couple years ago. If you feel like sobbing hysterically (while pondering a really interesting ethical dilemma), this book/movie is for you. Also, Ishiguro’s prose is so simple and brilliant, reading him is an asset to writers (and readers!) everywhere.
2. This Tumblr is awesome.
3. For those who like bread: how to revive stale bread. This article changed my life.
Reading: The Martian. It’s fascinating. And a definite departure from my usual angsty-YA reading list. It also makes me feel supremely stupid (I never would have thought of trying to grow my own potatoes, what’s wrong with me?) Read it before it becomes a movie!
Watching: Girls. I know, I’m late to the party. I have never been so sucked into a show in which I dislike pretty much every single character (except Ray. And maybe Adam). Maybe it’s because I live here and find them so realistic. Realism wins out over likability anytime.
Listening to: The Horrible Crowes. This song has been on repeat this week. I adore it.
I believe the above photo originated here