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FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French: Book Review

Talk about your dysfunctional families.  The Mackeys of the Liberties section of Dublin put most other families to shame.

Faithful Place is the street, ill-named as it may be, where the Mackeys live.  The protagonist, Francis (Frank) Mackey has managed to escape his family and his childhood home, but all the other members of his family either still live there or haven’t gone far.

Frank is now a member of Dublin’s Undercover Squad, divorced, and the father of a nine-year-old daughter. Both his sisters are married with homes of their own.  But Frank’s brothers, Shay and Kevin, are still unmarried and live with their parents although they are well into their thirties.  And the Mackeys’ overbearing mother and alcoholic father are still at each other’s throats as they were all the years their children were growing up.

What got Frank out of Liberties was his plan, as a nineteen-year-old, to run away with his sweetheart Rosie Daly.  Very much in love and forbidden by Rosie’s father to see each other, Rosie suggests boarding the ferry to England and getting jobs there.  It takes them several months to save the required money, but finally all the plans are in place.  Frank is waiting for Rosie at midnight on the specified night, but she never shows.  And she’s never seen again.

Still desperate to escape his family, Frank gets as far as the other side of Dublin and becomes a member of the police force.  And for twenty-two years he has kept his distance from his family, his only contact being his younger sister Jackie.  As the story opens, Jackie has contacted Frank with incredible news–Rosie’s suitcase was found in a derelict house on Faithful Place, hidden behind the fireplace.  And Rosie’s suitcase turns out to be a modern-day Pandora’s box.  Secrets that have been hidden for years burst into the open when it is discovered.

Faithful Place is not a part of Dublin on the tourist route. It’s changing a bit as the new economy brings Yuppies into the area, but by and large it’s still the same families living there who have lived there for generations.  The men work in factories or are on the dole; the lucky ones work on the line at Guinness.  There’s very much a sense of not getting above yourself, not trying to be better than your parents or your peers.  If you do that, you’re definitely under suspicion.

Frank has moved out and on successfully, and that doesn’t sit right with his family. His older brother Shay is resentful, dreaming of the day that he will buy the bicycle shop he’s worked in for years, but he’s still living in the flat above his parents.  His younger brother Kevin seems younger than his years, never venturing far from home.

Tana French paints a devastating portrait of a neighborhood and a people stuck in place. The same arguments, the same rivalries, the same unhappiness exist more than two decades after Frank has left home.  It’s no wonder he didn’t want his young daughter to even know of the existence of this family.  And he’s furious when he finds out that his sister Jackie and his ex-wife have been secretly bringing his daughter to Faithful Place to visit his family.  Ms. French’s portraits of a family and a community coming apart is vivid and frightening.

Strangely, Tana French’s web site is three years out of date.  But you can read more about her at