Review: This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

By | May 15, 2016

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex-film star given to shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway.

He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

Other than my collection of signed copies, I never keep books after I’ve read them. But there’s one shelf – the top one in the tall bookcase in my bedroom – where you will find the very few books that I just couldn’t bear to part with. At the end of that shelf is a small collection of books with one author’s name on the spines – Maggie O’Farrell. I’ve admit I’ve loved some of her books more than others – My Lover’s Lover really didn’t work for me, and neither did Instructions For A Heatwave – but she’s one of very few authors whose books I’d ever even think about re-reading. She has a unique voice – and a way of tearing at your heart and soul with every word she writes. 

I was so desperate to get my hands on a pre-publication copy of This Must Be the Place – everyone will be able to read it when it’s published in hardback and for kindle on 17th May by Tinder Press. I saw early reviews from others being quoted, and was insanely jealous. Then my copy arrived, in its matching padded envelope – and then it sat on my bedside table a while, waiting for exactly the right moment to pick it up and read it. And then that moment came. And it’s taken me over a week to read because I didn’t want it to end, reading sections of it when I felt I really wanted and needed to – and it’s been a simply sublime and unforgettable experience. 

I’m not going to even try and tell the story – by now the basic story of Daniel and Claudette’s marriage will be as familiar to many people as their own. Everyone’s mentioned the highly original structure – exquisitely drawn moments, every one richly detailed, backwards and forwards in time, some chapters almost complete stories in themselves. In description, it might appear that this would make the book a challenging – even a difficult – read, but it’s entirely the opposite. Every layer, every new perspective, just makes the story infinitely richer and deeper – and the whole touches you at every possible level. 

Every character, however peripheral – but also momentarily central – to the story, has a life vividly drawn in intimate detail. I could perhaps name my favourite characters, but to reduce the book to a list would somehow diminish it. Daniel and Claudette are simply mesmerising, and hold your heart in their hands as you hold theirs – you sometimes want to stay with their story, but you also want to explore the world and people that surround them and impact on their lives. And the use of language just takes your breath away – the few strokes that make a person as real to you as those you love, the descriptions of a setting that allow you to inhabit it totally for the short time you’re allowed to share it. 

As I place it on my shelf – that top one in the tall bookcase in my bedroom – I can only say that this book will forever hold a special place in my heart. No further words needed, I think… 

Special thanks to Georgina Moore for my precious advance reading copy.

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of seven novels, After You’d Gone, My Lover’s Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand That First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions For A Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, and This Must Be The Place. She lives in Edinburgh.

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