Tana French's "Faithful Place", Or, Murder Goes Very Very Irish


Having purchased it years ago, I'm embarrassed to admit that I've only just got to Tana French's wonderful Faithful Place, a magnificently propulsive murder mystery set in the forgotten spaces of a swiftly gentrifying Dublin.

In Nick Hornby's slightly hysterical call for a quota on "literature about literature" in The Polyphonic Spree, he elucidates why novels like Faithful Place are so impressive:

"Writing exclusively about highly articulate people...Well, isn't it cheating a little? McEwan's hero, Henry Perowne, the father and son-in-law of the poets, is a neurosurgeon, and his wife is a corporate lawyer; like many highly educated middle-class people, they have access to and a facility with language, a facility that enables them to speak very directly and lucidly about their lives (Perowne is "an habitual observer of his own moods"), and there's a sense in which McEwan is wasted on them. They don't need his help. What I've always loved about fiction is its ability to be smart about people who aren't themselves smart, or at least don't necessarily have the resources to describe their own emotional states....It seems to me to be a more remarkable gift than the ability to let extremely literate people say extremely literate things."

So here we find ourselves, with Frank Mackey, back in Faithful Place, where working class" still counts as mere aspiration. Faithful Place has a very particular geography, all secret paths and abandoned buildings and dangerous cellars. And like most communities within communities, it has its own set of rules, blunt and simple:

"No matter how skint you are, if you go to the pub then you stand your round; if your mate gets into a fight, you stick around to drag him off as soon as you see blood ... even if you're an anarchist punk rocker this month, you go to Mass on Sunday; and no matter what, you never, ever squeal on anyone."

In a street of bruisers, its all too easy to let the characters go undefined, to have them inhabit archetypes of thugs, thieves and scoundrels that readers are all too familiar with. But that's where French's easy facility with language comes in. She takes us on a tour of Faithful Place and introduces us to Mackey's estranged family members one by one, his abandoned friendships, the very conversations that polluted the air during his ill-fated romance with Rosie Daly.

The mystery of who kills Rosie Daly certainly has its own interest, but the characters really shine here. Faithful Place is also very funny:

"My parents didn't like people with Notions; the Dalys didn't like unemployed alcoholic wasters."

I know I'm late to the party here, but if you somehow missed Faithful Place over the past couple of years, I highly recommend picking it up.

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