Tana French’s novels are prized by connoisseurs of crime fiction. As the creator of the fictional Dublin Murder Squad, she’s chosen a new narrator for each instalment. Like an actor keen to play each role, French has inhabited the consciousness of one detective after the next over the course of six novels: In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbour, The Secret Place, The Trespasser.
Her latest,The Wych Elm, is a departure of sorts. The narrator is not a detective, but rather an entitled young white man named Toby who sustains neurological damage after an assault by two burglars. Things get worse, as they usually do.
Over the course of our conversation, in a busy café in Dublin, French wanted to talk about the challenge of this new POV. We also drifted back to the past, to the books she inhaled as a younger reader, including another work that defies genre boundaries:The Secret History.
Crime has been good to French. Her books have sold millions of copies and some of the earlier novels are being made into a television series for the BBC. But French has been good to crime, too. Like Tartt, she wants more than mere murder. She examines what can unsettle any particular land, her own included.
Five Dials: When you're talking about your books, and someone says, 'Oh, they're murder mysteries,' do you ever have to say: 'Well, I'm doing a bit more here'?
Tana French: I’m aiming to do a bit more, definitely.
I’m not a big believer in genre boundaries. Crime? ‘Oh,’ they say, ‘it’s got a gripping plot, but probably two-dimensional cliché characters, not great writing, no thematic depth.’
Literature over here? ‘It’s got all the themes, it’s got the great writing, but probably the plot is pretty boring and involves a lot of people staring out their windows in some deeply symbolic urban landscape.’
I don’t see why you couldn’t aim for all of it.
If somebody’s reading this as crime, great. They can get enjoyment out of it. If they’re reading it as literature, great. And if they want to just take it on its own terms where there might be elements of both, that can work too.
One of the defining reading experiences for me was in college when I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
5D: When you survey the world, you must see possibilities. Donna Tartt saw possibility for murder in a classics department. Do you see similar possibilities elsewhere?
TF: It’s not murder though. It’s mystery. I like looking for the potential mystery in everything.
I remember being around six and reading a school book that included little comprehension pieces. One of them was on the Mary Celeste – the ghost ship that showed up drifting with nobody on board. ‘Breakfast was still cooking in the galley, and nothing was disturbed. Only the lifeboat was gone.’ I was enthralled. I remember lying there thinking, ‘Right, when I die, I am asking God what happened.’
So I’m looking for the potential mystery in just about everything, and it doesn’t have to be a murder mystery. How could this possibly be mysterious? Where could this take us? It’s a deep human instinct to be fascinated, and not just by mystery itself. Not just by the answer, because if that was it, we would read the first chapter of a mystery novel and skip to the last. We’re fascinated by the process, by where that process takes us, and what we discover along the way.
There’s an assumption that the process of investigating, even if you don’t solve it, has an inherent power and an inherent value. I’m looking for potential mysteries and what the process of solving them might entail.
5D:How far do you have to stray from your own life to find these mysteries?
TF: A lot of the ideas from my books have come from really banal stuff. Like Faithful Place [French’s 2010 novel in which a detective is compelled to solve the murder of his childhood sweetheart]. I was walking home and some old Georgian house was being cleared out to be renovated. There was a skip outside, and this old blue suitcase was among the crap on the skip. What if somebody left it there thinking they’d come back for it? Where could that take somebody if they started pulling on that thread? Where might it lead them?
Broken Harbour [French’s 2012 novel set in the wake of the financial crisis] was because we had mice.
5D:And also because of Ireland’s ghost estates?
TF: Those are inherently creepy. You don’t have to go looking for a mystery in them. They’re deeply frightening: what they say about us as people, what they say about our society, what we as a society are willing to buy into, what illusions we’re willing to believe out of desperation.
Those houses were charged up with some of the most frightening things underlying our society. I didn’t have to go looking there.
5D:In your previous novels, you view a crime through the POV of the police officers. In the new book,The Wych Elm, you flip the perspective.
TF: I’ve looked at criminal investigations through a detective’s eyes six times. But there are a lot of other people involved. There are witnesses, there are victims, there are suspects, there are perpetrators, and all of them have a point of view, and this whole process has to look completely different from their point of view.
When you’re looking at the investigation as a detective, all the procedural stuff is a source of power and control. It’s your way of re-imposing order on chaos. Whereas, from all those other perspectives, it has to be the exact opposite. The investigation is this thing that comes barrelling into your life, turns it upside down. You have no idea where it’s going to go. You have no control over it. You don’t know what the detectives are doing or why. Are you a witness? Are you a suspect? Who are you within this pattern?
I thought I should give a voice to those other perspectives where you don’t know and you’re borne along by this process and you have to struggle and fight to find any kind of agency.
At various points in the book, Toby, the lead character, is all of those. He’s victim, he’s witness, he’s suspect, he’s perpetrator, and he shifts from all those perspectives. I definitely wanted to see it from the opposite angle.
It weakens the book if your narrator is somebody to whom things just keep happening, and he just keeps receiving, rather than being a force within the story itself.
5D:The allure for the reader is that the detective is in charge. The detective detects. He or she has power. But when you flip the perspective, you feel closer to someone like Toby, because it’s happening to him as it could happen to you, if things ever went bad.
TF: And he struggles with it. I don’t want him to be just a passive character within this story. It weakens the book if your narrator is somebody to whom things just keep happening, and he just keeps receiving, rather than being a force within the story itself.
5D:It’s also an interesting book to be reading right now. Here’s a middle-class white guy, with a definite sense of entitlement. It’s pointed out many times in the book that Toby is not like others. Was that conscious?
TF: That’s what started the book. I was thinking about luck. I was thinking about the relationship between luck and empathy, and how too much luck can stunt empathy. If you’ve been too lucky in one area, it’s easy to not be aware that other people might be experiencing a very different reality.
What about somebody who’s been lucky in every way? He has got the right side of the coin flip all the way along. He is white, he is male, he is straight. He’s from an affluent family. He’s mentally and physically healthy.
5D:You get the feeling he can get away with things.
TF: He’s good-looking. He’s charming. He’s had a stable childhood, a family who loves him. The world is basically set up to be Toby-friendly. It was very important to me to make him a good guy. He’s not nasty. There is no malice in him. He’s the guy who’s just pulled every single ace along the way.
5D: And you didn’t want a woman to play that role, say a white woman who’s everything but male?
TF: If you’re not playing the game on the easiest difficulty setting in every way, then you are going to be more aware that other people might have other difficulty settings.
Perhaps you’re a woman who has, on a pretty much daily basis, had your ideas dismissed in a meeting or laughed at. If you get passionate about something you’re called hysterical or aggressive. You've been catcalled. You’ve been grabbed on buses, just all the daily stuff.
You’re aware that the good, sound guys who would never do this kind of thing are completely oblivious to the fact that this is part of your daily experience.
If you’re like that, you might think: ‘Hang on a second. I’m probably oblivious in the same way to the experience of others. Hang on a second, I can kiss my boyfriend in public, but my gay guy friends can’t do the same thing.’ Or, ‘Hang on a second, maybe I have a different experience of the police or trying to rent a flat than a black friend does.’ If you are daily being made aware of the fact that there are different difficulty settings, you’re more likely to be aware of that as it applies to other people. So he had to be male. And he had to be white and he had to be straight and he had to be middle class. If he wasn’t playing the game on the easiest setting, it would make him much more likely to be aware of other people’s realities.
5D:When you choose to move from the perspective of a detective to the perspective of a character like Toby, are there new limits and new freedoms?
TF: It was a little bit scary, because in some ways it was much more like writing In The Woods. In all of the ones in between, I had already established the world of the Murder Squad. Although the other books are pretty much stand-alones, they have a certain amount of continuity. You know who the pathologist is, what size the squad is, how it works, the hierarchy. I couldn’t break that in the other books, which is good. It means I’ve got certain shortcuts established already. But it also means I can’t suddenly transform the entire Murder Squad into something different. Whereas in this novel, there are none of those parameters.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing the same book over. I don’t want to fall into that trap ever.
5D:A lot of people do. I guess they have their reasons.
TF: I’ll read those. I love reading those, the same book over and over, but I don’t actually want to write them.
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5D:You’ve mentioned your love for books that have broken the form. Have other books acted as a template?
TF:The Talented Mr Ripley. You only realize partway through, Oh my God, I’m rooting for the murderer, and not even a ‘good murderer’, whatever that is. Not somebody who killed a person who was threatening his family – no, he killed somebody because he fancied his life. But you rooted for him. Patricia Highsmith was all kinds of genre buster.
There are writers, including many of the greats, who approach the genre as an end point, as a finished thing. Let’s polish this sculpture to its absolute highest shine. Let’s perfect this. People like Agatha Christie. But then you also have the opportunity to use genre as a starting point rather than an end point. So it’s not like, ‘Let me get these conventions as brilliant as they can be.’ It’s, 'If I tie them in a knot and build them into something else'?’
I like conventions as a starting point. ‘What else could I do with it?’ Part of it may be timing. I felt that I came to the genre at a point where it had been polished to the highest shine. Look at Kate Atkinson and Gillian Flynn– Gillian Flynn and I were very much around the same time. We’re going, ‘All right. So what next? What else can we do? What else is there room for?’ There will always be room.
5D:Where do you think the form will go from here?
TF: I heard somewhere that more and more crime books are being set retro, set a few decades in the past, because of those damn mobile phones. So much of the investigation process is technological. There's less of the human interaction that makes us fascinated with crime books. That’s being eroded away. You can track somebody. You don’t have to interview five people to find out where so-and-so was on the night of the 15th. You just track his phone.
It erodes the sense of mystery in everything, not just in the specific mystery.A decade or two ago, if you want to know where Joe was on the night of the 15th, and you talk to his ex-girlfriend, and she says he wasn’t with her, is she lying because she wants to get him into trouble? Joe says he went past her house and she definitely saw him. Who’s lying? Whereas now: well, Joe’s phone says he wasn’t there.
There isn’t that sense of reality being slightly flexible, of reality having its own little nooks that you might never be able to clarify. It’s eroding our relationship with mystery.
I worry about whether our relationship with mystery is going to be truncated. We’re going to get more and more impatient with the idea that something might not have an immediate solution. And become more and more dismissive. I notice people are more dismissive of things that don’t have an easy answer. There seems to be a general movement towards being less and less willing to put time and thought into something that may not be capable of solution.
I wonder if there’s going to be a polarization: people who really have no patience for anything that isn’t on Google, versus people who crave that mystery.
5D:Which side will you be on?
TF: I like mystery.
Tana French reigns over Irish crime fiction. She pushes the genre with descriptive lyrical language in novels that are character-driven and densely atmospheric. Her first six books center on the Dublin Murder Squad, an imaginary branch of the Dublin police force.Why is Tana French so good? ›
But unlike even those genre-expanding novelists, French is the best mystery writer working today because she dispenses with the most alluring thing about classic detective fiction: the consistency of its point of view. The predictable horror of a mystery novel can be soothing.What is in the Woods Tana French about? ›
In the Woods is a 2007 mystery novel by Tana French about a pair of Irish detectives and their investigation of the murder of a twelve-year-old girl. It is the first book in French's Dublin Murder Squad series.Who is the most popular mystery author? ›
1. Agatha Christie. A discussion of the best mystery writers usually starts with Agatha Christie. She is the best-selling author of all time, with 66 mystery books under her name.How does The Searcher end? ›
Mart agrees that he and his friends could help with that, implying that he understands recompense needs to be paid. The novel ends with Cal and Trey working together on the desk. More summaries and resources for teaching or studying The Searcher.Which French book is good for beginners? ›
- Le Petit Prince. What better way to start our list of books to learn French than with Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). ...
- Le Petit Nicolas. ...
- Arsène Lupin, Gentleman cambrioleur. ...
- Astérix et Obélix. ...
- Tintin. ...
- L'élégance du hérisson. ...
- Le chat du rabbin. ...
- Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran.
Sometimes the order is important (you must read In the Woods before The Likeness or nothing will make any sense) but sometimes it doesn't, and it mostly has to do with how the characters move through the books.Can I read The Likeness before In The Woods? ›
You can read them in publication order, but it is not an obligation. It is sometimes recommended to read “In The Woods” and “The Likeness” later in the series. Reading them together is better, but the first one is the most divisive book in the series. So, you can pass them to go to “Faithful Place” or “Broken Harbour”.What is the moral behind into The Woods? ›
The 'Golden Rule' Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The witch was wronged and this led to spells and cruelty. If you always strive to live the golden rule within your life—good things will come and witches will stay away. Don't be misled, just go straight ahead.What is the conflict of Into The Woods? ›
Because of a curse put on the Baker's family he must set out on a task for the witch to reverse the spell she cast. A red cape, a strand of golden hair, a golden shoe, and a white cow. It's these four items that send a baker and his barren wife through the woods on a magical journey to reverse an evil spell.
It is by venturing into the forest that she meets the Beast, a character who teaches her adventure and love, offering her a life beyond her small town. In many ways, the forest represents all that the towns and cities are not: untamed, uncontrollable, mysterious, and wild.Who is the number 1 selling author? ›
1. William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) Often cited as the greatest writer in the English language and the bane of every high school student's existence, William Shakespeare has an estimated 4 billion copies of his works in circulation.Is Trey a girl in The Searcher? ›
Trey is a girl, and Cal thought she was a boy until his neighbor told him. This made Cal nervous, given how much time she had been spending with him alone. He sends her away and tries to put the mystery behind him, but then one night she shows up on his doorstep beat up.Why did John Wayne hold his arm? ›
In the closing scene with Ethan (John Wayne) framed in the doorway, Wayne holds his right elbow with his left hand in a pose that Carey fans would recognize as one that he often used. Wayne later stated he did it as a tribute to Carey.What does the end of The Searchers symbolize? ›
In its final moment, The Searchers suddenly becomes a ghost story. Ethan's sense of purpose has been fulfilled, and like the man whose eyes he's shot out, he's destined to wander forever between the winds.Can I learn basic French in 3 months? ›
While you certainly won't master it in three months, especially if you can only put a few hours a week into it, you can make sure to be more efficient by following an initial plan of action. Let's take a look at what you should do in the first hour, first day, first week and first month of learning French.What is the most read French book? ›
1. “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” A classic adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas, “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo” is one of the most popular French books of all time.Is French difficult to read? ›
French is relatively easy to learn but it does take some time and effort. As French is closely related to English, I have to agree with the Foreign Language Institute that says that French belongs to the easiest group of languages to learn for English speakers. Having so much common vocabulary helps a lot!Is Nevermoor like Harry Potter? ›
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
In many ways, it shares some crossover themes with Harry Potter – it's set at a school for gifted children, it takes place in a world the rest of society knows nothing about, and it features a protagonist who is neglected by her family.
Jessica Townsend is being whisked away on a global tour after writing her novel, Nevermoor. Floating into the Australian top 10 as if on the magic umbrellas used by its colourful cast, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Sunshine Coast author Jessica Townsend, has been dubbed the next Harry Potter.
Nevermoor, Interest age: from c 8 years, Fiction, Fantasy & magical realism (Children's / Teenage)Is Bridgerton like 50 shades of GREY? ›
“'Bridgerton' is something a bit like if Jane Austen met 'Gossip Girl' and maybe like '45 Shades of Grey',” he joked. “We have a lot of fun in period costumes and it is set in the Regency period in 1813. It is a romance and a fantasy and it's a big warm Regency hug.”What age is Bridgerton appropriate for? ›
Common Sense Media recommends the audience as 16 and older for “sex, nudity, smoking,” while further noting that “sexual politics is also a complicating factor in the drama.” Older teens can most likely handle it, especially since Season 2 is expected to be somewhat less sexy.Is Bridgerton book spicy? ›
For reference, Bridgerton is a solid Peri-Peri on this heat scale, just above the middle. Whatever your flavour, you're guaranteed to be whisked away (and maybe get a little hot under the collar) by this spicy batch of books. We think Whistledown would approve.Do you need to read siege and storm before watching Shadow and Bone? ›
You should be able to watch Shadow and Bone having never read any of Bardugo's books, picking up the story as you go alone. The show already has rave reviews from critics and fans alike.Do you have to read Jane Harper books in order? ›
Even though there are currently only two books in the Aaron Falk series, I strongly suggest you read the Jane Harper books in order. The main character has continuity and in every subsequent book, more and more of his own past is revealed.Is the Dublin Murder Squad finished? ›
Overall, the ending of Dublin Murders asked more questions than it answered, leaving audiences wanting more. Dublin Murders ended with detectives Rob Reilly and Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene) going their separate ways after their darkest secrets got the better of them in the end.Did Tana sleep with Jake? ›
“Tana and Jake still have not slept with each other,” Ashly says during a confessional interview. “At first I thought it was a good excuse to like, wait for your wedding night.Who was Tana Mongeau ex best friend? ›
One of the juiciest parts of her video, however, was when she spilled the tea on her relationship with her former best friend Maia Rita. When asked what happened between her and Maia, Tana went off on how she really feels about her.Is Tana Mongeau still friends with Isabella? ›
Bella loves Tana's dog Lumen, and looks after him whilst Tana isn't home / can't take Lumen with her to places. Bella spend Christmas and other Holidays with Tana's and her family. They are now no longer friends due to a fall out in 2020, possibly tied to Tana's ex manager, Jordan Worona.
At the center of Fall is Richard Dodge, who featured in Stephenson's 2011 novel Reamde. (You don't need to read Reamde to understand what's happening in Fall; I haven't.) Dodge is a video game designer, and as the novel opens in the near future, he dies.Can you read Dublin Murder Squad out of order? ›
The publication order for Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series is also the chronological order of the story, so it is best to read them in this order. However, this is not essential as each book follows a different detective solving a new crime. Therefore, you can read them in whatever order you would like.What message did Kipling try to convey through the way through the woods? ›
Answer: The message that the poet conveys in the poem is the mourning of the path to the forest that has access to the wonderful creatures and things in the forest.What is the theme of a view of the woods? ›
In A View of the Woods by Flannery O'Connor we have the theme of control, identity, independence and conflict. Taken from Everything That Rises Must Converge the story is narrated in the third person and deals with the relationship between a grandfather (Mark Fortune) and his youngest grandchild (Mary Fortune Pitts).What is the climax of Into the Woods? ›
Climax: The Baker sets a trap for the Giantess. Climactic Moment: The Giantess dies when a tree falls on her. This is the moment when the conflict ends, but it's ultimately an unsatisfying end to the story, because the Giantess has been the main antagonistic force only since the Second Pinch Point.Who is the main antagonist in Into the Woods? ›
The Giant (or The Giantess) is the main antagonist of the final act of 2014 Disney film Into the Woods. It was a mistake in the film because it was a earthquake according to Cinderella's Prince but turned out to be a giant. She was portrayed by Frances de la Tour.What is the resolution of Into the Woods? ›
Resolution - Cinderella marries the prince, Jack and his Mom have money, The baker and his wife have a baby, and Little red and her granny are happy and alive.What is the setting of Into the Woods? ›
The briefly-glimpsed country village in which they all live is Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, about three miles northeast of Henley-on-Thames (which is confusingly across the border in Oxfordshire).What are the metaphors in Into the Woods? ›
Into The Woods The musical “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is a metaphor for life in many ways, but the most prominent one is the woods symbolizing life itself. The prologue song “Into The Woods” is about each of the character's dreams and wishes.What is the metaphor of forest? ›
The forest metaphor points out both the dangers of proximity blindness and “wholeness blindness,” the inability to see the whole. “You can't see the forest for the trees” is such a popular metaphor that I think it is useful to refer to. It helps you understand how the way you see things is limited.
Throughout time, blood has been associated with opposites, including life/death, death/redemption, - eternal life - innocence/massacre, sickness/therapy, nobility/malediction (haemophilia in the “Blue Blood” descendants of Queen Victoria), generosity/transmission of infections, and attraction/repulsion.What genres did Herman Melville write? ›
|Genres||Travelogue, captivity narrative, nautical fiction, gothic romanticism, allegory, tall tale|
|Spouse||Elizabeth Knapp Shaw (1822–1906) ( m. 1847)|
|Children||Malcolm (1849–1867) Stanwix (1851–1886) Elizabeth (1853–1908) Frances (1855–1938)|
- In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015)
- The Woman in Cabin 10 (2016)
- The Lying Game (2017)
- The Death of Mrs. Westaway (2018)
- The Turn of the Key (2019)
- One by One (2020)
- The It Girl (2022)
- Snowflakes (Hush collection) (2020)
realism, in the arts, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favour of a close observation of outward appearances. As such, realism in its broad sense has comprised many artistic currents in different civilizations.What were the reasons that led Melville to begin writing? ›
Gansevoort, dead of a brain disease, never saw his brother's career consolidated, but the bereavement left Melville head of the family and the more committed to writing to support it. Another responsibility came with his marriage in August 1847 to Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of Massachusetts.What impact did Herman Melville have on society? ›
Herman Melville's writings influenced America mainly after his death as we discovered the underlying beauty and validity of his literature, developed from his years of experience as a seaman. There are many reasons why Herman Melville is considered one of the most decorated literary authors of his time.Is there a movie The Woman in Cabin 10? ›
A travel writer stumbles upon a gruesome secret while traveling aboard a luxury cruise ship. A travel writer stumbles upon a gruesome secret while traveling aboard a luxury cruise ship.Do Cork O'Connor series need to be read in order? ›
Each book in the Cork O'Connor series is offering a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one book to the other.Do I need to read the first bridgerton book? ›
Keeping track of the family is easier if you read them in order, but really each story is self-contained. The worst you find out is things like who a brother or sister married in a previous book.
Jane Harper (born 1980) is a British–Australian author known for her crime novels The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man, all set in rural Australia.What age are Peter and Jane books for? ›
Suggested Agatha Christie Reading Order
If you're going to read two or three, here are some suggested reading orders: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, And Then There Were None, Sleeping Murder. Murder on the Orient Express, Crooked House, The Secret Adversary.
“[Tana French] aces her second novel. The Likeness [is a] nearly pitch-perfect follow-up to her 2007 debut thriller, In the Woods.”Is the searcher part of a series? ›
French's next novel, publishing in the fall, is The Searcher. It's another standalone, and she describes it as her take on a Western. It's centered on Cal, a 25-five year divorcee and veteran of the Chicago PD force and a bruising divorce who decides to retire in a bucolic West Ireland village.