Reading these two back-to-back was an odd experience. I had no idea they would be so similar but because of that I couldn’t help comparing them. Between the two I definitely preferred The Likeness, but they each had their unique strengths while essentially telling the same story. Both focus on a close-knit group of college students that must cope after a tragedy happens in their midst.
by Tana French
What a ride! As others have noted, you need to suspend your disbelief at the onset to accept the premise. Detective Cassie Maddox is called to a murder scene where the dead body of a woman virtually identical to herself has been discovered. What follows is an intense preparation and training for Maddox to go undercover as the murdered girl to try and discover who committed the crime.
To complicate things, Maddox discovers that the woman has been using her old undercover alias, Lexie Madison. She was a college student living with four other students in an old house. The others have an odd symbiotic relationship and Cassie, pretending to be Lexie, must convince them that she’s the girl they know and love.
The reason this book works so well, despite the far-fetched plot, is the characters. They are beautifully drawn and just enchanting. The world that French creates is an intoxicating one. Just like Cassie, I couldn’t help but get caught up in their strange situation. There’s no way Cassie would have become so enthralled by that odd “family” if she hadn’t had her spirit completely broken by her partner Rob in the series’ first book In the Woods. I missed Rob and Cassie’s easy camaraderie in this book, but I was glad she mentioned him so many times. He was such a huge part of her life and in a way this book is her way of grieving the loss of their friendship before she can truly move on with her life.
BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful mystery that shouldn’t be missed. Read In the Woods first to understand the characters better, but know that this book is even better than that one!
“I just believe that vices should be enjoyed; otherwise what’s the point in having them?”
“I hate nostalgia, it’s laziness with prettier accessories.”
“I had forgotten even how to want something slow, something soft, something with wide spaces and its own sure-footed swaying rhythms.”
“I wanted to drink and dance until a fuse blew in my brain and there was nothing left in the world except the music and the blaze of lights and the four of them surrounding me, laughing, dazzling, untouchable.”
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
This strange dark story starts with a murder and the rest of the book is a tense look at the aftermath. A group of students at a small New England college grow incredibly close when they enroll in a Greek study program under the direction of the illusive professor, Julian Morrow. Our narrator, Richard, is the last to join the tight-knit group and he has a hard time fitting in with the wealthy crew. The circle includes a set of twins, Charles and Camilla, the effusive Bunny, domineering Henry, and Francis.
After the initial shock of the murder on the opening pages, the story behind it slowly unfolds, revealing a torrid tragedy of Greek proportions. Richard is the eternal observer, rarely initiating action, only reacting. It’s through his passive eyes that we see the events, which gives the whole book a detached feel. You can’t put it down, but you never feel connected, it’s an odd balance.
The most fascinating part of the book for me was the eroding nature of guilt and the different effect it had on each person. The way we react to things says so much about our true natures. In that way it reminded me a lot of Crime and Punishment.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting read, one that will certainly stick with me. Honestly, I think that if I hadn’t read The Likeness directly after this one I probably would have liked it more. The two books are so similar in their basic premise, but The Likeness was the more engaging and enthralling of the two for me and this one suffered in comparison. I did like this one; I just loved The Likeness more.
"But of course I didn't see this crucial moment for what it was; I suppose we never do."
"There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty - unless she is wed to something more meaningful - is always superficial"
"... instead of merely loitering in the bullet's path like a bystander which I so essentially am."