It’s been over 10 years since Tana French’s atmospheric debut In the Woods, the start of the Dublin Murder Squad series, cemented her as “one of the greatest crime novelists writing today”(Vox). Her newest novel, The Searcher, is a standalone that does not disappoint. Once again, French uses the atmosphere, climate and circumstances of Ireland to flawlessly weave a captivating tale that will hook you from the start. We’re thrilled to have Tana French here to speak to her connection to Ireland and what makes it the perfect setting—and in most cases, a character in itself—throughout her remarkable stories.
I’ve always been fascinated by places and by how deeply charged with atmosphere, memories and emotions they can be. In Ireland, the land is especially imbued with emotional resonance, for solid historical reasons. For hundreds of years, up until just a century ago, the British colonized Ireland. They took the country away from its people not only in governmental terms, but also literally: the land was confiscated from Irish people and given to English and Scottish settlers. So that land became a locus for all the Irish people’s feelings of rebellion and loss, for their sense of identity which was under constant attack. The land was something that they lived on, worked on, saw every day—and, at the same time, something that had been savagely taken away from them, as part of a deliberate plan to destroy them politically, physically, socially and culturally. Hundreds of folk songs praise the beauty of the land—but they describe it with longing, not with contentment. It’s something that’s unreachable even though it’s right in front of you, a heart-breaking mirage.
So, when you write about Ireland, the place naturally becomes a character in itself and a site of many of the other characters’ most intense emotions. Their experience of the landscape, even on the most concrete sensory level, is a complicated, multi-layered thing, because their feelings about the place are so intimately bound up with their feelings about themselves.
Most of my books have been about Dublin, but I’ve always loved the west of Ireland, too. It’s got a beauty that’s very different from the beauty of the east coast. The east is gentle, lush, welcoming, green all year round. The west has Atlantic waves and Atlantic winds, it’s wilder, rockier, harsher. When I was a teenager living in Rome, I spent a few weeks every summer in the west of Ireland, and I spent the rest of the year daydreaming about it in vivid detail—the smells, the sounds, the specific quality of the air. When I finally found a chance to write about it in The Searcher, I wanted to bring it alive for the readers with the same vividness: the fine mist of rain that feels like it’s hanging suspended in the air, the smells of rich earth and growing things and turf smoke, the edge to the wind, the multiple subtle shades of green and grey that tell you where the weather is headed if you know how to read their code. I wanted to give the reader some of that sense that everything about the land matters, every aspect of it has power; every detail of it intertwines with the life of the person experiencing it.
Cal, the protagonist of The Searcher, comes to the west of Ireland as an outsider, but he still brings his own needs to his relationship with the land. He’s looking for something from it—a simplicity, a clarity that will restore him to a simpler and clearer sense of himself. At first, he thinks he’s found that. As he gets to know the place in more detail, he discovers it’s a lot more complicated than he thought.