Archive | April 2013

Tana French’s “Faithful Place”

I was surprised by the abundance of clues about the identity of the murderer that Tana French gives away from the very beginning of Faithful Place. But I kept reading this superb whodunit not only because I wanted to find out if I guessed right (I actually did), or because of the nail-biting suspense, or because of the masterful depiction of the family tragedy and personal drama, but also because of the protagonist, Frank Mackey, an undercover detective, whom I admired in the previous novel, The Likeness.

For me, the most important factor in a book, of any genre, is language. A novel may have an engaging plot with high stakes and conflicts and twists, as well as remarkable characters, but if I don’t get any joy or thrill from the narration, I usually put it down with a simple “Nah…”

In Faithful Place, Frank is the narrator, and his voice (Oh, that voice!) grabbed me from page one and didn’t let me go until I finished the book. So, even if I didn’t care about the aforementioned important components in fiction, I would’ve read this novel so that I could just “hear” Frank talk! This savvy, wisecracking, tough man is so fascinating that I’d love to know him in real life. I wish Tana French would make him the narrator in one of her future novels.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this one.

Tana French’s “The Likeness”

They say that every one of us has a double, somewhere. Hard to believe, but it’s possible, I suppose. If so, what chance is there to meet your “identical twin”? In Tana French’s thriller, The Likeness, Detective Cassie Maddox (from In the Woods) gets such a chance. Unfortunately, her double, Lexie, has just been murdered. So Cassie is assigned to impersonate this young woman and integrate herself into her home and school with the purpose of identifying her killer.

French describes Cassie’s undercover experience in such a meticulous and convincing way that the incredible becomes quite credible.

I love this author! Even if the plot wasn’t suspenseful and the characterization was weak, I would read her work solely because of her language, which is so beautiful it’s poetic.

But, as much as I find this novel captivating, I have a problem with the depth of Cassie’s love for Sam. It feels forced. I believe that the one man she feels deeply about is Rob Ryan, her ex-partner from French’s first novel, In the Woods. In the sequel, The Likeness, Cassie’s memories of Rob, their extraordinary connection, are triggered constantly by minor things, and she feels the painful loss of him over and over. As opposed to it, her “love” for Sam is not convincing to me at all.

Whoever read these two novels, I’d love to hear your opinion on this. Thanks.

Cookie-cutters

In Write Away, Elizabeth George, one of my favorite writers, calls John Fowles the “incomparable” because he “was always out there, never writing the same book twice. He took big risks. Sometimes they paid off, and sometimes they didn’t.” (201)

I totally share her admiration for John Fowles and can say the same thing about Colum McCann, whose prose is breathtakingly beautiful, and whose novels (Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, and Dancer that I’ve read) differ greatly from one another.

Unless they create series, I admire writers who try different genres or, at least, avoid formulaic plots. In short, I don’t like cookie-cutters, and I’m quite surprised at some gifted writers who are hung up on them, for whatever reason. Maybe because it’s easier? Or it’s less time-consuming to whip them up, because they’re on a writing treadmill—a book a year? Some choose similar characters in every novel (a plain, lonely woman in her 30’s-40’s, searching for love) or a predictable plot (great love ending in the death of one lover), and such.

I feel sad about discovering an exciting author, falling in love with his/her prose, wanting to read all of his/her books, only to be disappointed after reading another two because they’re so similar to the previous one. In fact, they’re so similar that all three (or four!) blend in my mind into one. (Like all those movies with Jennifer Aniston, who always plays herself, not even bothering to change her hairstyle.) Huh? I think, and stop reading that author’s work. Done. Not interested. Which is the saddest thing not only for me, but for those writers too because they lose an avid reader.

Needless to say that I, as an author, don’t want to create cookie-cutters. So far, my three novels are different in genre and narration. Disengaged, coauthored with my friend, is a romantic suspense, written in epistolary form. Without Thinking Twice is a romance, narrated by four protagonists (two women and two men). A Measure of Guilt, a mystery, is written from the third person point of view. My fourth one, which I’m working on now, is a thriller, a sequel to my third one, narrated by two protagonists, alternatively. Even though the two characters are from the previous novel, they are now the narrators, which makes this book different, even if slightly. I do hope it’ll sound and feel different for my readers.

Do We Need Flashbacks?

Many creative writing instructors warn writers against using too many flashbacks in their stories. “A flashback doesn’t move a story forward; it makes a story static; the reader loses interest; the progression of a story is stifled,” and so on and so forth.

I agree with this opinion, but only in some cases. For instance, when a flashback interrupting a dialogue is so lengthy that you forget what the characters were saying before and have to go back, to remind yourself, it stifles the story, yes. However, when a flashback is fleeting (as in a dialogue) or when it’s included in the description of a setting or an event, or better yet, when it’s a separate chapter, I like it. Flashbacks can certainly play an integral part in a story.

In Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf, flashbacks occupy probably half of the narration. Without them, we wouldn’t understand what happened to Luke Warren prior to his auto accident that left him in a coma. The same concerns his wife and children, the other narrators in the novel.

I just finished reading Tana French’s In the Woods, the first in her series, which left me with aching regret and heartbreaking loss over the breakup between two detectives, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. Since Rob is the narrator, I know how he feels about the end of their friendship, and from his description of her appearance and behavior, I can tell that Cassie is taking it hard. Still, I want to hear about it from her lips.

In The Likeness, a sequel that I’ve just started, the narrator is Cassie. Oh, finally! I thought. The novel has some new characters and a pretty gripping plot, but I crave for flashbacks, where Cassie would mention her feelings about Rob and their breakup. Each time she says “my ex-partner” my pulse is quickening with anticipation: Yes, now, please, tell me how you felt during those past months…

In short, I love flashbacks, no matter what they teach in creative writing classes, and I use them in my own novels.

In Disengaged, Hope Day is agonizing over the loss of her fiancé. So how can she not recollect their happy, and not so happy, times together, while trying to understand what went wrong? Enter flashbacks.

In Without Thinking Twice, the Russian brides, Lara and Yulia, compare their lives “here and there,” constantly remembering anecdotes from their lives “back home.” Without flashbacks it would be almost impossible to understand their characters, motivations, and behavior.

In A Measure of Guilt, Kate Flanagan is searching for her sister, Angie, and her best friend, Sandra, who vanished without a trace two years ago. She blames herself for playing a part in the tragedy. Naturally, her memory plays a broken record of that terrible day. Flashbacks are absolutely necessary in this novel.

So, are flashbacks really that bad? I don’t think so!

Tana French’s “In the Woods”

In Tana French’s psychological thriller, In the Woods, Detective Ryan compares the truth to “the most desirable woman in the world” and calls humans “the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her.” It’s beautifully said and brilliantly demonstrated throughout the novel. The criminals lie to the police, trying to avoid prosecution—obviously; the police lie to the criminals in order to get their confessions; the detectives withhold the truth from their superiors so they can stay on the case that they’re assigned to investigate… And so it goes, lies and truth intertwined.

For some, though, “the truth can set us free,” as they say. When he was twelve, Det. Ryan witnessed the disappearance of his two best friends, but when he was found in the woods, in shock, with blood in his shoes, he had no memory of what exactly had happened. His friends vanished without a trace. Now, twenty years later, he’s hoping that the murder of a twelve-year-old girl, in the same place in the woods, will trigger a recollection of his own tragedy.

The novel’s ending is quite upsetting, but realistic. It’s the first one in the series about Detective Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, and it won numerous awards. I love the writing (achingly beautiful), the characters (intelligent, tough, savvy, but with flaws), and the gripping plot, with twists and turns.

Tana French is an extremely talented writer. I highly recommend her novels. I’ve started her second one in the series, The Likeness, and I’m hooked from page one.