Thursday, 20 October 2016

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Master storyteller, Maggie O’Farrell, is back with a fairly ambitious novel following the life and loves of Daniel Sullivan, a linguist from New York. At the start of the book, Daniel is married to recluse ex-actress, Claudette, who he admits is crazy. It’s a happy marriage, until Daniel is undone by discovering that a woman he dated as a student died soon after he returned home for his mother’s funeral. He’d never heard from her again.

The story switches back and forth, between Daniel and Claudette, filling in the details of their former lives. How Claudette was discovered by a Swedish filmmaker, with whom she went on to make Oscar winning movies, as well as having a son, Ari. Then there’s Claudette’s daring escape to the wilds of Ireland. Both Daniel and Claudette are difficult characters - impulsive, passionate, determined. Daniel seems frequently bent on self-destruction, drinking too much and walking out on family, on friends. Claudette has no forgiveness for infidelity, having learnt the hard way.

The narration is picked up by numerous other characters: Daniel’s flatmate, Todd; his children, Niall, Marithe and Phoebe, as more gaps are filled in, taking us from the mid-1980s to the present day. This makes for quite a disjointed narrative flow and as a reader I found I was just getting to know a character, when all at once the story flips back or forward, to another continent and to yet another viewpoint. It’s a lot to get your head around.

Nevertheless, I persevered. Like Daniel, the reader is dragged to some fairly low places, before a flicker of hope begins to rekindle. What keeps you going is O’Farrell’s lively writing, full of warmth, wit and intuition. She is a writer of immense compassion, not only for her characters, but for the human condition in general. Over all, This Must Be the Place is well worth the effort.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: This Must Be the Place

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