Saturday, January 5, 2013

Faithful Place by Tana French, 2010

Get ready for a shocker: I read a novel marketed to grown-ups. This almost never happens, unless the author is dead. I don’t have a good reason for avoiding contemporary adult literature, other than the superabundance of wonderful children’s literature with which to happily fill my time.

At the urging of a friend, I went in search of novels by Tana French. I chose FAITHFUL PLACE (2010). I finished it moments ago, which is good, since for the last three days my sleep and chores have suffered mightily. It’s a crime drama set in Dublin, starring Frank Mackey, divorced dad, undercover detective, and middle child in a family that plumbs new depths of dysfunction. Frank, nee Francis, planned to run away with this girlfriend Rosie Daly to England at age 19. Rosie never showed up, and Frank found a note there in her writing saying, in effect, I’m sorry, forgive me, wish me luck, and goodbye. Before the neighborhood woke to witness his humiliation, he left Faithful Place (the street) without looking back. Cop college, a career on the force and another as one of Dublin’s-most-devilish-with-the-ladies, and a nine-year old daughter later, Frank is yanked back to Faithful Place by the discovery of Rosie Daly’s suitcase, stashed for all these years up the chimney of the derelict home where they were to meet.

French writes sensuously, with every bitter tang of lager, decay, and regret rolling on the tongue, with the perfume of lemony shampoo and body spray and teenage lust lingering in the nostrils. Her narrative deftly weaves past and present, and convincingly depicts the interconnected anguish of broken neighborhoods, broken families, and broken lives. Oppression and torment are everywhere, but French resists the urge to resort to tidy, simplistic bogeymen to account for her characters’ pain. Our hero, Frank, is something like irresistible, though I wanted to throttle him at times. I suspect that’s one of the secrets of his charm.

Advocates of young adult literature praise it in contrast with adult fiction for its holding onto hope. FAITHFUL PLACE is not without its note of hope. One just has to look closer, underneath layers of Dublin-poverty grime, to find it. Strongly recommended, particularly for readers more streetwise than I am. Not gonna lie: had to look a lot of Irish curse words up, or do my best guessing. The Emerald Isle seems to have its Forty Shades of Swear which leave our unimaginative American cussing sounding pretty bland by comparison. 

FAITHFUL PLACE is available in paperback from Viking Penguin.