Faithful Place: The effects of upbringing and family on characters' values and actions.


(This literary criticism focuses on the role of family values and dynamics in shaping the actions and morals of characters.)

Families cause insanity and heartbreak. They lead to faulty morals and monkey-see monkey-do attitudes that French takes advantage of to create a protagonist and antagonist both bred from the same crop. Not only do the personalities of the family matter, but the environment and experiences found through that stimulus. French uses three men from the same family that could easily have become the same person, but certain choices led them on paths to becoming marginally different, portraying the difference in morals and the lengths that one is willing to go to to get what he wants.

Frank Mackey is, again, a character introduced by French in previous books. The middle child of his five siblings, he is characterized from the get go as only looking out for himself while his older siblings resent him for not taking responsibilities and his younger siblings idolize him for not being bossy. French makes it clear that Frank looks out for himself when she describes his almost-elopement with his girlfriend, desiring to leave his family to the will of his alcoholic father. Frank takes care of himself first and foremost because he was raised to think that no one else would look out for him. French uses a resentful mother and alcoholic father to display how a dysfunctional relationship affects not only the spouses, but also the children to a large degree. Frank took hits from his father, but did not translate that to mean it is okay to hit a child. Once he has his own child, Holly, Frank makes her his princess and keeps her as far away from his family as possible. He chose a path that (while not exactly on the straight and narrow) is as close as he can get to being a good person without changing his nature. He attempts to keep his daughter from the corruption of his family with their lies and vulgarity. Frank's family made him wary and resentful, aiding him in a life that is comprised mostly of lies in Undercover. He attempts to use these things for good instead of harm.

A father is usually the main role model for a boy, but Frank's father is anything but. The Mackey family lives in an urban, close packed area where everyone knows everyone else's business. Frank's parents grew up on Faithful Place, in the same place that Frank did, and their union was forced and an accident. Frank's grandparents were also alcoholics, and unlike Frank, his father did not find a separate path to travel. He was raised by alcoholics and taught to think that was okay, so he embraced those morals and ideas. He was raised to think hitting children was okay because he was hit as a child. Instead of choosing his own right and wrong, he used his angst against his mismatched marriage and unwanted children and channeled it into alcohol consumption. He also harbored jealousy founded in his teen years from being spurned and run out of a good job. He has a deep loathing for one of his neighbors, but the most he ever does in retaliation is yell obnoxiously. He did not attempt to permanently harm those that ruined his chances for success.

Finally there is Frank's eldest brother Shay. Being the oldest, Shay had to protect his siblings from a raging alcoholic father and a mother that was disappointed with her life. He resented every piece of extra responsibility thrust on him, and schemed to get out. He never had the audacity to leave like Frank. He claimed to hold family before all else, but when his brother's selfishness had a chance of getting in the way of his plans, Shay used the lessons of his parents to do something that his father never had the guts to do. When Shay discovered Frank's plans to elope with his girlfriend, Shay found the meeting place and confronted Rosie before she could go to Frank. When she would not sway her position, he resulted in the type of violence he grew up seeing his father dole out. He grabbed her by the neck and bashed her head against the wall, just as he was taught. He looked out only for himself. Then, when it seemed as though his younger brother Kevin was on the verge of discovering his secret, Shay murdered his own brother, making it look like an accident. He has the same selfishness as Frank, but it has not been tempered by self control or the realization that he is an adult and no one has control of him. He was taught to be a victim and not do anything for himself, so even when admitting to murder, he speaks as though he is the victim.

All three men come from the same background, but all three chose different paths. Frank's father chose to eternally be a victim of circumstance. Shay chose the type of selfishness that causes mounds of harm and only leads to destruction. Frank used his upbringing to raise his daughter in a wholesome way, teaching her good morals and protecting her from those that would do her harm.
(D.S. 2012)

The Likeness: An examination of the use of a character's past to characterize in the present and how this aids in the motif that is a visceral dislike of the past.


(In this essay, D.S. analyzes the author's use of characters' pasts to further the motif of a visceral dislike of the past. Also explored is the use of this motif to ultimately solve a murder and de-mystify the identity of a victim.)



Without a past there can be no future, and this is made extremely apparent by the character development in Tana French's The Likeness. The novel bursts with the sordid pasts of its characters. While what has been plays a major role throughout the novel in both plot and character development, the author skillfully slides this information in as a means to create characters that grow along with the mystery and the reader's interest in the novel. Three characters in particular shape the major events, and the more information the reader discovers of one, the more that is unveiled for all.

Cassie Maddox, the narrator/protagonist, is a returning character from French's first novel In the Woods, and the author introduces her as such. Her past as a cop is laid out to the reader from the beginning, and even if the reader has not read the previous novel, the turmoil that those events caused is apparent in many shapes and sizes.

" I'm not going to get into the long, snarled chain of events that took me from Undercover to Domestic Violence. The abridged version: UCD’s premier speed freak got paranoid and stabbed me, wounded-in-the-line-of-duty got me a place on the Murder squad, the Murder squad got to be a head-wrecker, I got out.

French, Tana (2008-07-17). The Likeness: A Novel (Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox) (p. 8)."

French introduces both the protagonist and the main problem in the first few pages, and all of this is accomplished using Cassie's past. She describes her alias "Lexie Madison" and all of the work involved with creating not just an alias but a person with firsts and favorites and a past. Cassie's act of accounting the traits she gave Lexie shows not only who she thought she was burying when the undercover case closed, but also the person that Cassie wished she could be and share a life with. Cassie gave Lexie everything she wished she had. Once a Cassie look-alike turns up dead in an old Irish cottage with a punctured lung and an ID reading Lexie Madison, Cassie is once again confronted with her old demons and things she thought she had escaped. Not only does Cassie feel an inclination to learn more about this girl because the victim is wearing her face and her name. Cassie feels an obligation to prove herself after her final case on the Murder squad ended with the wrong person and jail and a killer on the loose. Cassie's past haunts her from all directions. Her refusal to listen to the cautions of others involving the case show her stubbornness and desire to correct past wrongs. She attempts to avoid thinking about these things by either going to a shooting range or drowning her sorrows in coffee, but the draw of learning more about this stand in Lexie Madison haunts her even while she fills her shoes.


Cassie is sent to live in Lexie's place, pretending that she is in fact her own doppelganger. While Cassie battles her own demons from the past, she must work to uncover those of a girl who does not even possess a traceable name or finger print. Lexie's past is one of the main points and problems throughout the novel. As Cassie fills her shoes, she learns about Lexie through her friends' discussions and daily rituals, but as she uncovers more, it becomes clear that Lexie is not only what her friends make her out to be. She originated somewhere as another identity, and again, pieces of her past are slowly unveiled to create the character that morphed into Lexie Madison. Cassie discovers part of her thinking process through a secret journal that lists important dates up to a certain point, until Lexie's orderly lists turn to scrambled airports and meeting times. Finally it is discovered during the autopsy that Lexie Madison is pregnant, and Lexie's psyche becomes clear to Cassie. Cassie superimposes her past and feelings onto Lexie to the point that they seem to merge as a person. Cassie's past blinds her. The author uses these things to characterize a person that never speaks a single word or takes one breath during the novel. Using only the words of her friends and momentos left behind, French creates a secretive, rash young woman who can recreate herself at the drop of a hat. Cassie traces "Lexie" from Dublin to North Carolina, San Francisco, London, and all the way back to Australia, where she finally reaches the father of Lexie. The added living locations added to Lexie's volatility and lack of a single identity. She ran from her past, but that very past is what enabled French to create a character that is only physically in the story as a corpse but metaphysically is a part of every page.


A good murder mystery can not exist without a killer, and French inserts her killer as close the the cop as possible. Cassie enters Whitehorn House, Lexie's former home, posing as the deceased and Lexie's friends appear to be none the wiser. Cassie develops relationships with Daniel, and the three other co-owners of the house. As they unwittingly fill her in not only on Lexie's quirks and workings, but of the dynamic of the house, she must come to terms with the fact that such a tight knit group had problems. Continuing with the motif of a visceral dislike or aversion to the past, one of the main rules in the house was "no pasts." Whenever one of the members brings up some part of his or her past, this rule is enforced by Daniel. Cassie pegs him as the leader of the house from the first day. French makes this possible by making Daniel the original inheritor of the house, but she throws a twist when he puts the house into the joint ownership of every one of the five friends. The more he clings to his present "utopia" that he has created in the house, the more of his past slips out. The house itself is a part of his past, which he desires to avoid. By exploring not only Daniel's immediate past, but the past of his family, French enables Cassie to chip away at Daniel's expressionless, steady exterior to unearth a character who is ultimately manic in his desire to keep his friends together in his home. He is manic enough to kill one of them to save the perfect place that he has created. As more of Daniel's past is unveiled, he transitions from the stable father figure of the house to the murder that Cassie was sent to look for.


The past does not have to appear as a prologue or special excerpt in a book. Characters need not be described in neat little lists that tell of eye color and exact build. French skillfully utilizes the past to not only characterize her creations, but reason out their actions and ultimately, solve a murder.
(D.S. 2012)



In the Woods: A deep look inside a characters persona and a valid explanation for their behavior.


[(Essay date 10 June 2011) This literary criticism by A.R., analyzes the main character from the novel In the Woods by discussing his actions through the use of narration point of view and character relationships.]

In Tana French’s novel In the Woods, a complex character by the name of Rob is introduced as the narrator. From the opening pages, it becomes apparent that the book is only told from his point of view and that this character in particular is bold, straight to the point, and psychology broken. The second thought on the very first page is a perfect explanation of how Rob’s character acts, being that his “relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass” (French pg 3). Rob’s vision when it comes to relationships and the truth is fogged; he does not have any clarity, which leads to complete uncertainty in both realms. Rob’s dark past from his childhood haunts every fiber in his being and because of this black hole that resides within, he is unable to move forward with his life.

There are always motives behind people’s actions, an underlying justification or explanation that sheds light on their behavior, and in Rob’s case, he is emotionally scarred from his past. The mystery of his friend’s disappearance and his incapability to remember what had happened continuously taunts him. Rob states that there are two things that one must know about him, he “craves truth. And lies” (4). There is a touch of irony and hypocrisy in that statement because not only is Rob blinded from the truth from his own past and completely oblivious to seeing the truth, but that fact that he admits enjoying lying reveals a new chapter about his character that may seem to be unsettling to some. A person only admits to craving lying if they do it often, a pathological liar as some may say, especially when they repeatedly get away with it. Rob constantly lies using his twisted sorted fabrications, which feeds his self -denial as a cover up to hide from reality. What is more ironic than the statement Rob made is that for being a detective, he is easily swayed from seeing the truth. For example, throughout the course of the novel the character Rosalind had so simply manipulated Rob into believing she was an innocent girl who was being abused when in reality she was an accessory to a crime. He even went as far as believing Rosalind’s word over his reliable partner Cassie. His inability to cope with his past puts a major strain on his thought process, altering his perception and capability to look at events from a clear perspective, which as a result disallows Rob to become too close to anyone person.

Rob’s compulsive behavior to lie is an attempt to conceal his identity. Lie after lie, from changing his name, then altering his accent, making up a fake family, to creating stories about his childhood, it is hard to decipher what is real and what is fantasy. “Nobody is likely to link up Detective Rob and his English accent with little Adam Ryan from Knocknaree” (32). Rob lives his life with a false identity this way he does not have to acknowledge the real man he has become. If he can alter who he is today, then he can alter who he was and what had happened to him as he was growing up. For a detective who is supposed to be uncovering the truth, it is odd that he himself cannot even do that in his own life; he does not even know whom he really is. A person can only get away with an intentional alter ego for so long. It is only a question of time before the true inner depths that lurk beneath the surface, rears its ugly head leaving in its wake the tides of past waters that had created the man of today. This is where Rob’s greatest downfall comes into play.

Throughout the entire novel, Rob develops a great partnership with Cassie and the two become very close. Their bond grows strong and they are almost inseparable. Eventually is it obvious that there is more to their friendship then just being professional partners. Rob adores Cassie and loves her unconditionally and the first time that her saw her, he stated, “For about five minutes, as I tried to get the Vespa to start, I fell in love with her” (12), but as the connection becomes stronger, Rob pushes her away. Since Rob’s childhood, the people closest to him have either disappeared or sent him away, and he does not know how to form close bonds with people without eventually running away from them to avoid getting hurt. His best friends were gone in a blink of an eye forever and then his parents sent him away to boarding school, away from everything he had ever known.

Now, picture this:
“When I was found I was wearing blue denim shorts, a white cotton T-shirt, white cotton socks and white lace-up running shoes. The shoes were heavily bloodstained, the socks less heavily…I was also near-catatonic: I made no voluntary movement for almost thirty-six hours and didn’t speak for a further two weeks” (5-6).

Imagine being in Robs shoes, given the description of how he was found the night his friends suddenly disappeared. He was found covered in blood that was not his own and in complete shock. He was so traumatized that his little boy mind shut down, turning off all that had transpired that day in the woods. I have heard it said that the mind blocks out horrific events that happen to a person. When an individual is mentally strong enough the mind incrementally cracks a window allowing small rushes of memories to come forward. Robs mind apparently had not strengthened. It is not difficult or uncommon for a person who has gone through multiple traumatic events, who has not healed or strengthened one’s mind and dealt with past issues, to become desensitized and callous towards relationships with others. As long as Rob continues to run away from his past and the people who love him, he will remain lonely and miserable, such as the conclusion of the book proved. He had completely pushed Cassie away, and then he lost his job. Finally, he came to the realization that he has problems, which has caused him to be in an unstable mental state.

Rob’s character was doomed from the beginning when he decided to become a detective. It is unrealistic to believe that a man who says, “I don’t tell people about the Knocknaree thing. I don’t see why I should; it would only lead to endless salacious questioning about my nonexistent memories or to sympathetic and inaccurate speculation about the state of my psyche, and I have no desire to deal with either” (32), is ever going to solve a big murder case. If a person cannot get past their own demons thus helping themselves, how can they possibly help someone else? Rather than confronting his childhood nightmares Rob swallows his fears, which fester and grow getting heaver and heaver with time, creating a black mass of negative energy that continues to consume and devour him from the inside out. Life is too short to hide and be submissive to fears, and before Rob knew it, his life was flying past while he remained still, unable to move forward with the rest of the world. Rob’s character is proof that a person’s lies, deceptions, refusing to see the truth, and not facing problems from their past only gives power to which once was, resulting in never knowing what may have been. When owing the burdens of what others should carry, these burdens will end up weighing the soul dimming their inner light.

(A.R. 2011)


Consequences of Secrets and Lies in The Likeness by Tana French

In this piece, N.L. discusses how details and symbols create the theme of the consequences of secrets and lies in the novel.



Tana French’s novel, The Likeness, focuses on an unusual murder investigation in Ireland. Through personal details and duplicitous symbols, the author creates the motif of secrets, an important element in the investigation of the death of the girl who calls herself Lexi Madison. These contribute to the theme of the consequences of secrets and lies.


Cassie Maddox, a cop who goes undercover pretending to be “Lexie Madison”, after Lexie Madison’s murder, has some secrets of her own that are exposed through details and symbols in the novel. The real Lexie Madison was Cassie’s undercover alias for a previous operation, Operation Vestal. Lexie Madison was invented and then thrown away after her use was concluded, only to be picked up by Gracie Audrey Corrigan looking for a clean slate. Gracie quietly slipped into a new life, with new friends and a new personality. Upon being called by her name in Ireland because of her physical similarity to the “real” Lexi Madison, Gracie took her identity and became “Lexie Madison”. The mirror motif scattered throughout the novel comes from Gracie and Cassie’s mirror-like physical appearance that allowed Gracie to slip into Cassie’s old alias, Lexie Madison. The name of the case of Lexi Madison’s murder is called “Operation Mirror”. The mirror image also allows Cassie to become Lexie and to slip right back into where she left off in the hope that the killer will be discovered. “Everything I had-my job, my friends, my flat, my clothes, my reflection in the mirror-felt like it belonged to someone else,”(140). Cassie keeps the secret from her four housemates when she goes undercover by using details of videos and information collected from Lexie’s life at Whitethorn to become Lexie.


Lexis four housemates, and Lexi herself, all possess secrets. Daniel, the father figure of the house, Abby, Rafe, Justin, and of course, Lexie, compose the residents of Whitethorn House. Although their close and elite relationship appears to leave little to be known about each to the others, each housemate’s past is off limits in conversation. The relationship is unusual because Cassie observes that, “they didn’t have boundaries, not among themselves, not the way most people do,” (156), yet when it comes to each person’s past, there is a cold, unopen relationship. Throughout the novel, the details allow the closeness of the relationship to be exposed. Abby, Rafe, and Justin’s pasts consist of shame and sadness. Justin, who is gay, is not wanted at home. Rafe’s father, although he calls on occasion, is cruel and degrading to Rafe. But Rafe unknowingly hides an even bigger secret: he was the father to Lexie’s unborn child,a detail that Cassie saves until the last minute to try to break her housemates into telling her who stabbed Lexie. Abby figures out that Lexie was pregnant as well, but Cassie persuades her to keep it quiet.


Daniel is the first one to notice the Cassie was not Lexie. He notices small details, like Cassie eating onions when Lexie hated them. He keeps this secret from Abby, Rafe, and Justin, but he eventually confronts Cassie. Another important detail about the night that Lexi died was that Daniel was alone with Lexie for a significant amount of time in the shack where she was found. Also, Cassie learns the least about Daniel past. Daniel calmly instructed the other three what to do after he came back the night Lexie died. Without a blink. “‘He was perfect. It was absolutely terrifying,”’(141) said Abby about Daniels actions that night. Daniel was so flawless, it was like he had done something like this before. This detail shows a lot about Daniel’s character. It is never exposed what his past was, but Daniel was the one who started the “no pasts” pact, and from these details, he may have had a really good reason for starting it himself. Not only do these four have past secrets, but they are all holding in an even bigger secret: one of them accidentally stabbed and in the end, murdered, Lexie Madison.

Lexi Madison’s past is the most unusual one. The “no pasts” pact is especially vital to her. Lexi Madison is not actually Lexi Madison, as stated above. Lexi Madison living in Ireland was also Manley Beach in Sydney, Naomi Ballantine in New Zealand, and Alanna Goldman in San Francisco. Her real name was Gracie from Australia. “She’s been running away...since she was nine,”(458) her father states after he is located at the conclusion of the novel. This evidence provides details to the novel that add to Lexie’s character and the secrets motif found in the novel. All four of her housemates have no idea about her past. Lexi’s inability to be tied down is what, in the end, caused her accidental death. The details of her past identities prove why she was willing to sell her share of the house and leave like the snap of a finger. Lexie was unable to settle down. Another secret that Lexie kept quiet was the she was pregnant. Cassie discovers this while sneaking around. She finds a date book that gives her airplane fares, the allusion that she was pregnant, and the idea that Lexie was meeting with a man about selling her share of the house. These important details about Lexie’s secret past reveal her motivation for her actions prior to her death.


Whitethorn House encompasses secrets of its own. Daniel’s family had always owned the house. It had been passed down generation to generate, a family symbol, but to outsiders, the house symbolizes corruption and disgust. A maid at the exclusive Whitethorn House got pregnant by a resident of the house, William March. When this was found out, the rumor had it that she hung herself. This false rumor(she had actually been murdered by William) and the already festering hatred for the March family because of the belief that they did not fulfill the duty to provide for the surrounding town began a decade-long hatred of the March family and of Whitethorn House. This family secret caused John Naylor, a resident in the surround town of Glenskehy, to not only vandalize the house because of William, but to vandalize the house because of the lack of care that the owners of Whitethorn House provided to their town. This family secret, discovered through the details of the investigation, is symbolized by Whitethorn House.


The house not only symbolizes the family secrets that outsiders categorize it as, but it also symbolizes safety and security to those living in it. Lexi was killed because, in her inability to be tied down, she was trying to sell her share of the house. Whitethorn House is a sanctuary. When the five of them were having a terrible day or trying to deal with the struggles of Lexi, they would put all of their energy into the house. They would tend to it and paint it and love it with all that they had, but Daniel also used the co-ownership of the house to insure that the only people who ever understood him could never leave. “The rest of us-when we want to, we can hold conversations with other people… If it weren’t for us, Daniel would be lonelier than God.”(423) Without this house, Daniel’s only hope at companionship would be gone. If Lexi were to sell her share of the house, his “perfect” world that he had created would come crashing down. Whitethorn House was a symbol of security for Daniel surrounded by the only people that he ever loved.


Not only does the house symbolize safety and security, but in its duplicitous nature it also symbolizes the idea of being trapped and the duplicity of Abby, Rafe, Justin, and Daniel. For Lexi, Whitethorn House and the part of it that she owned was finality. To live, with the other four, for the rest of her life, was uncharacteristic of her past. She moved, completely changed personalities, when ever she felt that she was going to be tied down. While she did participate in the joy and love of the house, her other side was planning on selling her share and leaving. Whitethorn House is also a symbol of lies. Once “Lexi” returns after her incident, each one of the remaining four knows who stabbed her. One of them did it. And for several weeks, the murderer lived with “Lexi” and none of them said a word. The safety of the house is shadowed by the fact that one of their best friends was stabbed, even if by accident, there.


In the end, after the investigation is concluded, Whitethorn House is set a flame and burned to the ground, most likely by John Naylor still seeking revenge. This symbolizes the breaking of the relationships of its residents and the destroying of their perfect lives. Daniels death and the destruction of Whitethorn House go hand in hand. Both symbolize the end of the “perfect” world that Daniel has created for himself and the end of the friendships that filled the house. Also, with the end of the house comes the end of the secrets that filled the house and brought its demise, both Daniel’s family secrets and the secret of Lexi’s death, and it also ends the friendships that inhabited the house.Whitethorn House, on the surface, symbolizes security and happiness, but it also symbolizes duplicity and trappedness and in the end, the destruction of the lives of it inhabitants.


Secrets and discovering of these secrets characterize the murder-mystery genre of “The Likeness”. These secrets are developed through important details about the characters and symbols. Whitethorn House is a symbol of the friendship’s that inhabited it that were destroyed through corruption and lies. The lies that are told and the secrets that are kept clearly show the consequences of secrets and lies. Gracie’s death was the result of her secret past and her planning to leave, which creates the plot for the entire novel.

N.L 2014