Monday, October 6, 2014

Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

First published:- August, 2014

Published by:-Viking Adult

Star rating:- 

Few other books have conjured up the ghost of my teenage years as successfully as this one, dredged up the hazy remembrance of that first, most agonizing heartbreak, the subsequent amateurish cynicism summoned up to preclude the hassle of emotional hangups and the feeling of having only just the foggiest notion of how the world works.

It is awe-inspiring how Tana French continues to incorporate such authentic sociocultural commentary into narratives which are usually taken to be written for the sole sake of providing cheap thrills. So blame her if I end up sounding like a smitten fangirl every time I review a book of hers. She is just that good even when she is writing out a logically fallacious scenario.

The teenage girls of 'The Secret Place' are much more than what C-grade teenybopper flicks and stereotype-riddled YA books make them out to be. They are capable of as much cruelty as kindness, as much self-sacrifice as vindictive selfishness. Here, the conniving, bitchy and backstabbing blonde isn't a cardboard cutout 'mean girl' symbolizing pure evil just as the archetypal good girls aren't as puritan. And a private boarding school turns into a zone of ineluctable conflict of interest where the realm of the personal frequently dovetails into that of the collective forming the intricate web of high school politics which implicitly governs the place.

...a place like this is riddled with secrets but their shells are thin and it's crowded in here, they get bashed and jostled against each other; if you're not super-careful, then sooner or later they crack open and all the tender flesh comes spilling out.

More impressive is how the four girls who lie at the heart of the mystery do not let their budding sexualities define their lives, or even sacrifice individuality on the altar of some contrived requisites of 'coolness' which teenagers are prone to do since rarely do they know any better at that age. Instead, they defy odds to carve out a private utopia for themselves, a clique which doesn't require the glue of some common ideology to survive - a secret place neatly tucked away in an obscure corner of their minds where they can be wholly unabashed of the unflattering sides to their personalities, sure of the fact that they will have each other's backs even when the world goes to pieces. 

...the whole point of the vow was for none of them to have to feel like this. The point was for one place in their lives to be impregnable. For just one kind of love to be stronger than any outside thing; to be safe.

In a way, the narrative of friendship and loyalty in the aftermath of a terrible crime is reminiscent of an earlier book in the series -The Likeness - which in turn was inspired by Donna Tartt's The Secret History. So fans of any of the former will be sucked right in even if they may have reservations about stories involving teenagers, specially teenage girls who are forever being dumbed down by writers looking to make a quick buck. Ms French here, true to her gift for impeccable characterization, adds many dimensions to their personalities. 

As the common refrain goes, calling books of the Dublin Murder Squad series mere 'crime novels' is almost like an outrageous insult. And this one's certainly no exception in this regard. There are two parallel 'before' and 'after' narratives devoted to uncovering the truth of the same murder. A story of the tragic collapse of a close-knit group of teenage girls who, even while trapped in the complicated tangle of sexual politics, fight to ward off influences which threaten to destroy their fortress of solitude. A celebration of the bond of friendship, how powerful and all-consuming an affair it can be and how unpredictably it can turn dangerous and even life-threatening. And, in the end, a poignant tribute to those charged years of adolescence, a unique phase of our lives we look back on with equal parts terror and fondness.

They are a forever, a brief and mortal forever, a forever that will grow into their bones and be held inside them after it ends, intact, indestructible.
**I received an ARC from Viking Adult via Netgalley**

Also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

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