“In all your life, only a few moments matter. Mostly, you never get a good look at them except in hindsight, long after they’ve zipped past you….I was lucky, I guess you could call it. I got to see one of mine face-to-face, and recognize it for what it was. I got to feel the riptide pull of my life spinning around me, one winter night, while I waited in the dark at the top of Faithful Place.” (page 1)
Frank Mackey waited all night for Rosie Daly. They were going to run away from their dysfunctional families, get married, and start new lives in London. But Rosie never showed up; instead Frank found a note. When Frank was sure Rosie wasn’t coming, he turned away from Faithful Place and kept walking.
Twenty-two years later, Frank, now a detective in the Undercover Unit of the Guards, receives a call from his sister, Jackie, the youngest member of the family and the only one with whom he has been in contact since the night Rosie failed to meet him. Jackie is breathless with the news and worried about its effect on Frank. Rosie’s suitcase has been found, stuffed in a fireplace in one of the derelict houses on Faithful Place.
For twenty-two years, Frank has believed that Rosie changed her mind, that she has been living happily in England. He has believed that some day they would meet again. Now he must re-adjust his memories. Rosie disappeared that night and the location of the suitcase suggests it wasn’t her choice.
Tana French puts the reader on Faithful Place, an address that belies its name. Families lived in the same flats, handed down from one generation to the next, along with the poverty and the hopelessness that were like heirlooms. People didn’t stay because they were faithful to their friends and neighbors. They stayed because it was only the rare one among them who had the imagination to move on.
It isn’t difficult to understand why Frank left his parents and has had no contact with his other siblings, Carmel, Kevin, and Shay. The author creates a stereotypical dysfunctional family that is no less real because they are a stereotype. Frank’s father is an alcoholic and I have met his mother in a few of the women I knew when I was growing up. For these women, great joy is to be mocked as it is a temptation to forget where you belong, that one can’t rise above the roots that have kept the family anchored to the ground, that success of any kind is an affront to the generations that have gone before. “Who do you think you are?” is a question that is a mantra.
Once he has returned to Faithful Place after his long escape, Frank knows he will never be free of it again. He has to face the time before Rosie left him so that he can understand how everyone was affected by her disappearance. The Mackey family has re-claimed him and tied him to his old life again. He is a detective in a place that hates and fears the police. He is a detective whose girlfriend disappeared and so he is a suspect, the object of the whispers behind the curtains.
There is a sadness to this story but, in the end, there is hope for Frank.
FAITHFUL PLACE is beautifully written. The author’s descriptions of place and mood pull the reader into the lives of an Irish family who, while living in 21st century Dublin, retain the values learned from the church and passed down through the generations. They play the roles in the family that are assigned to them based as much on the ideal of what family should be as it is on what their family really is. FAITHFUL PLACE turns Tolstoy’s view that “all happy families are alike and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” on its head. There aren’t any happy families on Faithful Place and the unhappiness of each comes from disappointments and fear.
Tana French writes extraordinary stories. IN THE WOODS, her first novel, won the Edgar and Anthony Awards for best first mystery, and the Macavity Award for best first novel. Although characters in one novel may appear in another, each book stands alone; each is a perfect story without reference to another. It isn’t necessary to read them in order. But read them, please.