Monday, July 26, 2010

Like The Secret History? Try this...

People who know I love "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt also know I am forever on a seemingly futile quest to find a book like it. Not many come close. There's one book -- it makes me mad even to THINK of it -- where they seem to have tried to rip off the plot as closely as they could, but it just sucks and gets all tangled up and you don't care at all about the characters -- not like Henry, Richard, Camilla and the rest.

But this weekend, I found a book that really, really reminded me of "TSH." It comes apart a little in the end, and I don't think it will hold up to re-readings like "Secret History," but I still highly, highly recommend "In the Woods" by Tana French (only $8 for the paperback!)

Like TSH, it's a first-person tale told by a likable but haunted man (but written by a woman, and both first-time novelists) with a tragic past. Like TSH, there's a murder involved. Like TSH, it has engaging characters with distinct personalities and a fascinating setting.

It's not set at a Vermont college, but thousands of miles away, in Ireland, after a body is found on an archeological dig. Our narrator is a policeman with a secret, and as he digs into the case, his own past and present swirl and collide. It's a little hard to explain why I feel the books are so similar. but as I read it, scenes, descriptions, bits of characterization -- if I were sitting down with you and copies of both books I could physically point to the scenes that are similar (but don't feel ripped off).
And thankfully, French has two other books I can move on to next -- the brand-new "Faithful Place" and "The Likeness."
In short, not the same book. Not a sequel. But pleasing, in the same wonderful literary way.

14 comments:

MrsKinne said...

I love "The Secret History." I will have to check this one out.

Carrie said...

In the Woods is one of my favorite books of the last few years. I think, if you don't have expectations of what the ending will be and simply read it as a character piece, it is extremely satisfying. I also enjoyed French's The Likeness but not nearly as much, as think it has many more structural (and story) problems than In the Woods. Haven't read her new one yet.

Now I have to read The Secret History! I hadn't heard of that one before, so thank you.

naginata said...

Gael, I actually thought the Likeness was a LOT like Secret History. If you haven't checked it out yet please do. I can't wait to read the new one.

cpeep said...

Have you read Another Kind of Monday by William Coles?

Megan said...

The Likeness is so similar to The Secret History that when I was done, I looked up interviews with Tana French to see if she did it intentionally. I can't remember now exactly what I found, but I do remember she mentioned The Secret History was one of her favorites and she is/was aware of the similarities.

NYCGirl said...

I haven't read "The Secret History," but I very much enjoyed both "In the Woods" and "The Likeness," and have "A Faithful Place" waiting on my bookshelf to be read when I'm done with the book I'm currently reading. ("The Postmistress")

Sarah B. said...

I also thought "The Likeness" almost eye-poppingly similar to "The Secret History" - both excellent reads!

Anonymous said...

Do not under any circumstances read this book..you will be bitterly disappointed and feel very cheated.

Elissa said...

I LOVED the Likeness. So good! You've got to be willing to go along with the plot, but French does enough heavy lifting to make it worthwhile, IMO. Now I've got to try TSH ...

arajane said...

hmmm... i loved in the woods until the very end, and then probably threw it across the room in anger. i thought the "resolution" was super lazy. but that didn't stop me from reading the likeness, which i enjoyed much more. and all the other commenters are right--the likeness bears a very similar resemblance to the secret history. i think you will like it very much.

Amblus said...

See, I didn't mind the ending of In The Woods because I always suspected we'd get the other side of the story from her eventually. And if not? Well, some mysteries never get solved. I'm currently reading "A Faithful Place" and loving it, just like I loved her other two.

NYCGirl said...

http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Guest-Books/Tana-French/ba-p/3061;jsessionid=05464E9635399226D48007FB4F58E696

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone is still reading comments, but I need to "talk" to someone about In the Woods. I thought the first two-thirds were absolutely masterful, with the suspense ratcheted up to high heaven. I have three *major* problems with the last third, in no particular order:

*skip the rest of this post to avoid major spoilers*

1. After sleeping with Cassie, Rob turns into a total asshole, and a really stupid one at that. I don't just mean the blowing her off and running from intimacy. I mean that every conclusion he reaches and every decision he makes is so wrong, inexplicably so. For example, when O'Kelly calls him into the office to bust him about being Adam Ryan, Rob is instantly convinced and furious that Cassie betrayed him, even though she has always been loyal, and there were plenty of other ways he could have been discovered. So he goes and confronts her in a vicious rage. Huh? And everything he did and said was suddenly like that. It was maddening.

2. Not solving the older case. I mean...the balls, right?

3. Given what the answer turned out to be, the newer case should have been solved in a week, not months. I mean, you know the body was moved and hidden for a day and you don't run a black light through the only enclosed spaces that are nearby? You don't nail down the alibi for the guy who found the body? They had a whole team of floaters chasing down every cockamamie tip, but it was months before they thought to look for blood in the storage shed? Bah. See, this brings me back to point two, the main reason they botched the investigation of the new case was they had a personal investment in the old case. So we spend the whole book obsessed with the old case and how it relates to the new case, and then...it doesn't? And we still don't know what happened to the kids? And these characters we've been so invested in are just lousy detectives, I guess? Harrumph.

Anonymous said...

Reading "The Secret History" and am amazed by the similarity to "The Likeness" - which Iread and loved. Disappointed that Tana French was so obviously influenced.Loved, loved "In TheWoods" and "The Likeness"."Faithful place" - not so much.Had zeero empathy for the narrator who is - to put it mildly - a dick.