WTF, OMG, like, WOW!
I’m rarely reduced to both incoherence AND speechlessness by a book. Incoherence, yes, but generally accompanied by loquaciousness,; incoherence because of loquaciousness, perhaps.
This compelling, satisfying, dark, twisty, evocative thriller by French, set in an elite girls’ boarding school outside Dublin, did though, leave me thinking for once that perhaps the operatic over the top incoherence of stylised ‘youth-speak’ was the only possible response, after all. Not because Tana French is in any way incoherent or over the top, though she certainly deals with huge issues which are the stuff of opera and classical drama – the individual and the domestic opening out into much wider, mythic, universal themes. The gobsmacked reaction is really one of awestruck admiration, is all.
Continuing with her ‘Irish Chorus’ of leading characters from the Dublin Murder Squad (she highlights and focuses on a different detective each time) this time her investigating duo are both, in different ways, outsiders. Antoinette Conway is outside because she is a woman, and, moreover, a fierce one who lashes back at evidence of misogyny, patronisation and exploitation. This has made her unpopular with her male colleagues. Stephen Moran wants to be liked, sure, and has charm, but is not prepared to be one of the laddish lads. There is a sense that perhaps he is a little better than the rest, and knows himself to be so. This means he too is a slightly dubious, slightly marked card, by virtue of this aloofness behind the affable. The dynamic between the two, and the building of a professional working relationship, is fascinating – both gender and class are subtexts.
A year earlier, a dead body had been discovered in the grounds of St. Kilda’s girls’ school. It belonged to a popular and lusted after catch of a boy from the neighbouring elite boys’ boarding school. Conway, with another professional partner had attempted to solve the murder, and failed to do so, and the failure left a stain on her. So when some compelling evidence comes Moran’s way, re-opening the investigation offers a way-out, the prospects of advancement, but also the danger of ultimate professional failure, for both. Stakes are high
The fervid, hothouse, intense setting of adolescent girlhood (plus the allure of the neighbouring testosterone) is magnificently done. The reader, like the detectives, is drawn into a world which is both terrifying and sparkling with energy, dreams, passions and possibilities.
Any comparisons to Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, which French clearly nods at in her own title, are neither audacious nor undeserved. Once again, we have an elite (albeit a crucial few years younger) and issues of class and privilege, cliquery which is both full of possibility and full of poison.
What I particularly liked about French’s superb mastery of relationships, characterisation and dialogue amongst the charged teens is that she does not fall into relentless cliché – though there are the ubiquitous rhythms and language of the group, portrayed with accuracy – she does not cut each individual girl and boy from an identikit cloth – the reader can hear individual rhythms.
There is a substrate to French’s writing which seems to have a particular sensitivity to ‘atmosphere and preternatural energetics’ I suspect she is someone who feels the indefinable, that which, for want of a better term, gets tarred dismissively as ‘supernatural’. So this is certainly a strong element running through this book. But, for those who absolutely dismiss such things, there is certainly much evidence throughout history of the effects of a kind of group hysteria, group hyper-arousal to ‘mysterious comings and goings’ and activities involving poltergeists which cluster around adolescence. So, take a group of highly charged young girls within a cloistered setting, and the explosion of a dark, brilliant energy out of which mysterious things happen does not, in any way, feel like a novelist copping out by invoking the supernatural. It just adds to the shiver and the tension.
Structurally, a beautifully told tale : alternate chapters, the detectives, taking place over a little more than a day, the central groups of two rival groups of girls, moving slowly forward over eight months and two weeks towards the day the boy was murdered.
And as for the writing itself, gorgeous, authentic, and every now and again arising into something even finer, some kind of summing up :
Conway..spun the MG onto the main road and hit the pedal. Someone smacked his horn, she smacked hers back and gave him the finger, and the city fireworked alive all around us: flashing with neon signs and flaring with red and gold lights, buzzing with motorbikes and pumping with stereos, streaming warm wind through the open windows. The road unrolled in front of us, it sent its deep pulse up into the hearts of our bones, it flowed on long and strong enough to last us for ever.
So………..I have recovered loquaciousness, though I’m not so sure about coherence….read it, just read it!! A brilliant, highly recommended outing.
And I am indebted to Cleopatralovesbooks for her superb review of The Secret Place which sent me hot-footing to the library for a copy. It IS one which I know I’ll want to read again, so I know a Kindle purchase is on the cards!
Gosh, you did read that quickly! I must admit to some surprise when I saw your opening few words – but what a fantastic review! You’re wonderful at tying up all the different threads, or influences – I wouldn’t have thought of Donna Tartt, for example, or the cypress – although that’s possibly because I haven’t read it yet, but I don’t think I would have picked up on these things the way you do. The quote sounded like it could have come from Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen, and that’s a huge compliment to Tana French! The way you talk of all the teenage girls together makes me think of the Salem witch trials, or, in recent literature, Megan Abbott’s The Fever (my daughter pinched all the Megan Abbott books, so I haven’t read that yet either!) And of course The Secret History, which you mention…It’s absurd, I read rather dull reviews in the broadsheets, by people getting paid probably far too much by the word, and I come on here and read a far more intelligent, knowledgeable and far superior review…It’s really not fair! Wonderful review, you’ve made me want to drag my copy out and I’ve SO much reading to do…I’ll try and squeeze it in!
Lady Fancifull said:
I was forced to read it quickly as once started, it was interfering with my sleep, as I was waking in the night needing to know more! so what with reading late into the night, waking in order to read a bit more and then waking early with the book in my head I need a good night’s sleep! Hopefully I can now get on with some of the other stuff I need to be doing which Tana French was distracting me from.
Thank you for those kind comments, too. To be fair to paid reviewers, I guess for them, however much they enjoy reading and reviewing, there is maybe a different dynamic if you’ve GOT to read a book by a certain time, whether or not you’re in the mood to read it. I have Jane Smiley’s second book of her trilogy waiting as an Amazon read, with the clock ticking. Now i was hugely excited by volume 1 and delightedly chose 2, but am going to have to be in the right quiet place to settle with it. French has left me far too charged up and full of adrenaline!
Now (given the length of my reviews!) if only I were paid by the word I would be a rich woman, – I was doing some work with a colleague recently, and we needed to compose a report to submit. He asked me for my short reflections on something in a few words, and I fell about laughing, saying ‘you know i don’t do short’. And he fell about laughing too, saying ‘I know!’
And i don’t think you should do yourself down over connections you may or may not have made to a book you haven’t yet read!!
What i like about her writing is that it has lots of substance so different readers WILL find different things strike.
When you say the clock’s ticking on the Jane Smiley, is this due to the Amazon Vine “review in 30 days” policy which I’ve heard people referring to? I’ve never been an Amazon reviewer. But I think Jane Smiley will be a very different pace to Tana French – it can be strange, the switchover from one book to another – takes the brain time to adjust!
Lady Fancifull said:
Yes, indeed, the Vine clock. It’s a great shame as I certainly take far fewer books than I used to from Amazon because of that. Smiley is a brilliant author, and I expect to love the book deeply, but, you are quite right – if I read a book which really, really grabs me, successfully, as the French did, I can’t read another book which might be as wondrous in its own way for a little while, till the previous magic one has let me go free, so to speak. I have to wean myself off with something less memorable, or something completely different like a factual book almost like having a little rest between courses of a wonderful meal. And the problem is, anything you read after something brilliant, unless brilliant again, is likely to be read a bit sourly and unforgivingly because the brilliant one is still glittering away!
Absolutely – you’re like a Nagpur, still searching for another glittering piece of….something! It’s rather like when you’ve been watching something hysterically funny on TV, then the next programme is serious, it takes you a moment or two to alter your mood to the appropriate sobriety – if that makes sense! Your head takes a wee while to catch up with itself. What happens if you over-run the 30 days? (I could imagine you doing the reading in 30 days, but you put so much thought into your reviews, that’s where you could over-run!) Btw, how did you get on with The Gracekeepers? Any joy? There’s another book I’d love you to look at next time you’re on NetGalley – it’s called The Letters Of Ivor Punch, by Colin MacIntyre. He was in school with me, so I’m hoping it does well. It reminds me a little of Alan Warner (Morven Caller) and, of course, it’s set on Mull! So if it appeals, you’ve got a wide-reach blog wise…if not, don’t worry!
Btw, you’re obviously very on the ball when it comes to WordPress – any advice on how to get better at it, like setting up widgets, sorting out that Amazon Affiliates thing, and all the other things I’m awful at – are there any books, or YouTube channels, or websites that are any use? Or are you just one of these people that, perhaps through work, are good at this sort of stuff and pick it up naturally? I have got better, but I look at some blogs and think – wow! I don’t want anything v fancy, I just want to know what I’m doing! So any advice on where I’d find that would be hugely appreciated! Sorry, I always seem to be asking you for something!!
Lady Fancifull said:
Um…….what is a Nagpur? I’ve just googled and only got the following:
Nagpur is the second capital and the third largest city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the 13th largest urban agglomeration in India and the largest city in Vidarbha.
This made me laugh a lot as I was tucking in to a piece of cake and wondered if being compared to a large city meant I shouldn’t!
As far as Vine goes, if you don’t get things reviewed within 30 (and posted) you can’t take anything else till you’ve done your homework. I know I will get the Smiley done, the problem is that I’m not in the right mood for it yet, and I don’t expect to be for a few days, and it is another long book, and a big book, which because Vine give you the ARCS as paper books, means its too big and heavy to fit into a handbag – much of my reading is done on buses and tubes, but this is really not going to happen with Early Warning, so I’m likely to be reading something else when travelling, I think I need to see what non-fiction I’ve got on the Kindle, as I find it hard to read two novels at once.
As far as Gracekeepers is concerned, I got turned down (whimpers) I’m not doing too well with NG requests at the moment, I requested a couple of out of region (sometimes I’ve been accepted for OOR) but got turned down, and I don’t know if its an urban myth or not, but I’m sure someone said that publishers also look at your turned-down stats, and if you have a lot, you are more likely to get MORE. I’ve got a little stack of books on my shelf and probably should clear them!
And, turning to the nitty gritty of the techy blog stuff. I’m not au fait at all with Amazon Associates (is that where you get some money for doing something like getting click throughs? – I’m a bit old fashioned and po-faced about advertising links – or is it third party sellers on Amazon – see, I’m so clueless that I don’t even know what it is!
FictionFan was hugely patient with me when I started my blog and I bombarded her with all sorts of questions ‘how do i do links, what is HTML? etc But outside her for more general things, I just used WordPresses own tutorials, which are very good, and, like you, looked a lot at other blogs, and thought ‘ooh, I like that, I wonder how you do it? Something I then did, which may even have been another excellent FictionFan suggestion, was to set up a kind of backstage version of my site, a second site – but one which remains completely private. I imported some content from the visible site to it, and use it as a kind of playground, to test all sorts of things out – mainly, the periodic ‘shall I change my theme’ so I play around with other themes to see how my posts would look. So far, nothing has been quite what I want, and wouldn’t be worth the huge hassle of change. But its a great place to try how to do things. I do like to play around with visuals, but its all very basic really. And the great thing about the shadow site is it means you can make all sorts of rubbish messes without creating public visible messes. Some things you might want to do might not be supported in the theme you have, which is another reason why being able to play around is useful. As for your specific – Widgets – it was working slowly through the WordPress tutorials/help, which really are pretty good because they are written in English rather than techygeek!
I am thrilled that you recovered your loquaciousness and coherence to write this wonderful review. I am delighted you enjoyed it as much as you did and I have to confess you’ve made me eager to re-read it myself. Tana French really does provide us readers with many different themes and issues in totally different styles, I can’t wait to see what her next offering brings.
Lady Fancifull said:
Indeed I will be impatiently keeping an eye open for when number 6 appears. Having just read the 2 I’m extremely impressed by the difference between the 2 – equally fine, but very different from each other.
Aargh! Just written a long comment which totally vanished. Predictive text turned MAGPIE into NAGPUR, it’s done it again. I’ve came to the conclusion that predictive text must be based on an algorithm which takes in the whole world, and with India’s massive population of Kindle users (have you ever been on Quora? It’s brilliant, so many Indians, kind of gives you a perspective on the population. But if you want to know anything about anything…Quora. You ask things like, what’s it like to go into space? And an astronaut will answer. What’s it like to work with Marlon Brando? And you get, say, an old Hollywood set builder or hairdresser…It’s incredible. And you pick the subjects you like.) I’ve never even heard of that Indian city and I bet it’s bigger than Glasgow. Re Vine, I do like paper books, but they each have their respective merits. If you use Edelweiss – which has a few hidden gems – it has the Val McDermid Forensics book, but you may well have reviewed it…or has FF? I got that from there. And there’s Bookbridgr, but v limited titles. I didn’t know if you had knockbacks, you were likely to get more, but I have read it’s essential to post frequently – which you do! If I really want something, I email a publicist. I got knocked back for A Killing Winter, and I emailed a guy called Tom, and said I’d loved Child 44, and anything set in the Caucuses, and he emailed me an apology and sent a hardback! And I have been accepted for OOR, in fact I’m auto approved for one US publisher (probably a ditzy intern!) which has good books but it’s not Penguin RandomHouse or anything like that – although I think, ultimately, they’re five companies or something. One thing to do is update your profile a lot. And they like your “brand” (lol) to have a lot of Twitter followers. The Amazon Affiliates is when you have a link to Amazon on your page, and if someone clicks through and buys, you get a %age. One blogger said she got £50 in six months – I’d NEVER expect anything like that, but it’d be a few quid for Xmas. I thought everyone did it, as they all have links to Amazon.
Yes FF is the woman when it comes to WordPress, Rebecca Bradley too. FF did suggest to me setting a page to private, and just playing about with it, which I’ve done. I just hate bombarding people with questions, and it can be hard to explain what you mean – it’s easier when someone’s with you. This sounds SO stupid, but where are the WordPress tutorials? That sounds like a great idea – use FF’s “shadow site”, and have the tutorials to do this. Are they somewhere on WordPress or should I Google them? I just dive into “New Post” or whatever.
I’m still laughing about Nagpur – I had another typo on Twitter the other night when talking about swearing in Scottish books, and I said Irvine Welsh was still the king of sweaters. Not v cool. Kindle’s do hate swearing, I’ve noticed though! x
Lady Fancifull said:
A magic post, thank you Crimeworm. You have given me so much useful information about stuff I didn’t know, especially about other arc opportunities – I know bookbridgr but for some reason edelweiss slipped off my radar – I found the site looked terribly complicated and ended up thinking it was for companies in the trade, not bloggers. As for those other sites, they look interesting. And as for the Az links, I put them there only because Az of course has the look inside feature plus other reviews, so it was innocent helpfulness only. I might investigate the Associates though.
But best of all you made me laugh so much! I kind of love predictive mistakes. It never occurred to me that was what it was. It sounded like a composite character from a fantasy novel, perhaps related to the Nazgul from Lord of The Rings, so I was convinced it was a cultural reference like that. And as for Irvine Walsh king of the sweaters I thought perhaps he was highly enamoured of Kaffe Fossett or Kofi Fossett or whatever his name is – the knit ware designer, and was the Imelda Marcos of cardies!
Okay my turn to be helpful. If signed in to your site, top right of screen, your gravitar, click on it and scroll down the menu – the one that says accounts, billing etc. You’ ll see there is, under ‘extras’ a help option – that takes you to the WordPress site where you find it all. Or you can just type in the Help, what box the specific terms you want help with. It’s really helpful, and you can get lost for hours finding out all sorts of useful things to try!
Right, must go, will be looking out for strange fantastical bird like creatures in the street with a predilection for stealing brightly coloured knitwear, especially when being worn by cool and edgy Scottish authors!
Fleur in her World said:
I had it is mind to save this book a while, to enjoy the possibility of reading for a little longer, but your eloquence and the memory of how good her other books are leave e wanting to read it right now.
Lady Fancifull said:
I’m still thinking about the book and it hasn’t quite released me yet!