'Faithful Place' Takes A Grim Dublin Setting

Writer Tana French lived all over the world as she was growing up, but her books are grounded in Dublin, the city she now calls home. French tells guest host Lynn Neary how her latest novel, Faithful Place takes readers into a grim corner of Dublin where families do their best to suffocate dreams and cops are to be avoided at all costs.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

Writer Tana French lived all over the world as she was growing up, but her books are grounded in Dublin, the city she now calls home. Her latest novel, "Faithful Place," takes readers into a grim corner of Dublin where families do their best to suffocate dreams and cops are to be avoided at all costs.

Detective Frank Mackie escaped from there long ago, but the discovery of a body in an abandoned house brings him back to the place and the family he hoped he'd left behind forever.

Tana French joins us now to discuss her new book. Welcome to the program, Tana.

Ms. TANA FRENCH (Author, "Faithful Place"): Thanks very much. Hi.

NEARY: Well, Frank Mackie tries to get away from this neighborhood, Faithful Place, when he's 19 years old. And I'd love if you could read a description of the night that he thought that he was getting away.

Ms. FRENCH: Yeah, sure. That'd be great.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FRENCH: (Reading) I was 19, old enough to take on the world and young enough to be a dozen kinds of stupid. And that night, as soon as both my brothers were snoring, I slid out of our bedroom with my rock sack on my back and my docks(ph) hanging from one hand. A floorboard creaked, and in the girl's room, one of my sisters murmured in her sleep.

But I was knighted that night, riding high on that surge tide, unstoppable. My parents didn't even turn over on the pullout bed as I moved through the front room close enough to touch. The fire had burned down to nothing but a muttering red glow.

In the rock sack was everything important I owned; jeans, T-shirts, a secondhand wireless, a hundred quid and my birth cert. That was all you needed to go over to England back then. Rosie had the ferry tickets.

NEARY: So he gets stood up by his girlfriend and it's 20 years later that he realizes that his girlfriend Rosie was killed on that night. It's a discovery of her body that pulls him back into the old neighborhood, back into the arms of his family. And that's really where the novel proceeds from.

Ms. FRENCH: Mm-hmm.

NEARY: But a lot of this story, it seems to me, is really about the idea that you can't escape your past and you can escape your blood.

Ms. FRENCH: Yeah. I think very much so. It's a book about family and about home. And Frank blamed his family for the fact that Rosie had, as he thought, stood him up. He thought the fact that his family was so permanently dysfunctional was what had driven her away, and so he ran.

But the fact is that his new family - his wife and his daughter - he hasn't made a great job of that, that this may be because in fact he tried to erase his whole sense of family.

NEARY: What is it about this idea of people wanting to erase their past or erase their connections with their family that you find so interesting that you've explored it in a couple of books now?

Ms. FRENCH: I think it could be because I do live in Ireland, I am living in Ireland. And here, over the past 15, 20 years, the relationship between past, present and future has been a very complex and very fraught one in that we had this huge economic boom.

And during the economic boom, there was a sense that Ireland was escaping from a past of hideous poverty. And there was a feeling that the only way we could grab hold of this wonderful rich consumer heaven present that we were being offered was this idea that we cannot in any way pay any respects to our past if we want to hold onto the future, that the two are somehow mutually exclusive, because that's been such a crucial tension within Ireland over the last 15, 20 years. I think that's why it keeps resurfacing in the books.

NEARY: Well, neighborhood plays an incredibly important role in this novel. Tell me a little bit more about this area of Dublin that you're writing about in "Faithful Place." It's called The Liberties.

Ms. FRENCH: Yes, The Liberties. See, for centuries and centuries, The Liberties had a separate charter from the rest of Dublin. The rules there were different. They made their own way, that's - hence the name The Liberties. That gave the area a very distinctive and very special character where people have known each other for generations; know everything about each other's family.

You can have an argument that's based on what somebody's great-grandfather did in the year 1900. The families that are interwoven by so much intermarriage and so much knowledge leads to a whole different level of intensity of community from what you get in almost any other area, I think.

NEARY: There's a really wonderful description of the neighborhood in the book that I'd like you to read. It begins with: The place was winding down for the night, if you could read there.

Ms. FRENCH: (Reading) The place was winding down for the night, and Kelly(ph) threw stuttering flickers in the Dwyer's wall. Music was seeping faintly from somewhere, a woman's sweet, wistful voice aching out over the gardens. In number seven, multicolored Christmas lights and pudgy Santas sparkled in the windows and one of Sally Hern's(ph) current crop of teenagers screamed, no, I hate you and slammed the door.

On the top floor of number five, the epidural yuppies were putting their kid to bed; daddy carrying him into his room fresh from the bath in a little white dressing gown, swinging him into the air and blowing raspberries on his tummy; mummy laughing and bending to shake up blankets.

Just across the road, my ma and my dad were presumably staring catatonically at the telly, wrapped in their separate unimaginable thoughts, seeing if they could make it to bedtime without having to talk to each other.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: Dublin is almost a character in "Faithful Place." And you, as I said, have lived all over the world. You could've been an international crime writer but you've really chosen to focus on Dublin. Why?

Ms. FRENCH: I think partly because this is the one place that I think I have any right to call home. It's the only place where I know the little things like what's the shortcut from A to B and what bus route do you take and where has a good pint or a good pizza. And little things like that give you the capacity to make that place come alive for readers.

And in a weird way, I think that being almost but not quite from here actually gives me, in some ways, an advantage, because there are things that you would take for granted about a place if you were born and bred there. Whereas if you're part outsider still, then you notice these cultural assumptions, these undercurrents, these things that to a real insider are so much a part of the fabric of life. And I think as a part outsider it's easier to pick up on them and integrate them into what you're writing.

NEARY: Tana French. Her new book is "Faithful Place."

Tana, so good talking with you. Thanks very much.

Ms. FRENCH: Thank you.

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