Book Review: This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell
With her seventh novel, This Must Be The Place, Maggie O’Farrell quickly and skilfully wraps you up in story and takes you on an emotional journey through place and time. This novel is wide in scope and ambition, a story of and for our times, but it’s also forensic in its detail, focusing in on one modern family, and ultimately, two people and one marriage. Here’s what it’s about:
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?
This Must Be The Place very much feels like a story for my generation, where relationships and marriages no longer have to last or can, where both partners have their own careers or feel they can explore other options, where families are no longer nuclear and living in the same area that their parents and grandparents before them live(d) but which are the product of present and former relationships and scattered around the globe.
This Must Be The Place is a novel about finding home in such a fragmented world, of finding home not just in a place, but in another person or another family. It looks at how random life (and death) can be; how people play with and manipulate others’ emotions; about missed opportunities and second chances; how we run to and away from people, events and places, but how they never really leave us; at the different ways in which we cope with this and how sometimes we don’t cope at all, but instead carry around a backpack of guilt with us, as Daniel does. And with the character of Claudette, we get a fascinating look at the dark side of celebrity: how it must be to live in the glare of the camera lens, and what one woman will do to step away from all of that in order to find some peace for herself, some semblance of normal life.
This Must Be The Place is Daniel and Claudette’s story and we get to know them, the story of their relationship, and their individual stories gradually. The way we would with friends (or indeed any non-immediate family members). By its nature, this isn’t a linear story, and it moves around effortlessly between characters and years and places, even countries, so we have to work at putting it together. If you dislike non-linear stories, you probably won’t be happy with how this shifts around (I refuse to say jumps around because I never feel as if it does that) but it’s completely the right structure for this novel. After all, do we ever get to know someone else’s story in anything but a non-linear form? No. We piece together their lives before us with each new story they share and this is exactly what Maggie O’Farrell very deftly does here, feeding us droplets as if through a storyteller’s pipette, and watching the ripples spread out, forcing us to alter our perception of the characters and their past and present behaviour. Narration shifts from Daniel and Claudette to the other people who play(ed) a part in their lives and Maggie O’Farrell brings them each forward in turn like a conductor teasing virtuoso performances from chorus players unused to solos or the spotlight.
This Must Be The Place not only looks at the central relationship of Daniel and Claudette but also the relationships between them and their children, their previous partners, their siblings and parents, friends and colleagues. No matter which character is telling their (however large or small) part of this contemporary story, their voice always rings true: for example, there’s one character who suffers from eczema. I don’t have as severe a case of eczema as that character but Maggie O’Farrell absolutely nails the short-term extreme relief gained from scratching when it itches to the abject misery of the aftermath when it burns yet more intensely than ever before. Minor characters here are every bit as fully-formed as the leads and play as assured a part when slotting in their fragment to the dazzling kaleidoscopic story that is This Must Be The Place.
Maggie O’Farrell’s seventh novel, This Must Be The Place, is out today in hardback and as an ebook. If you’re anything like me and share a love of maps, you’ll want to own this wonderful novel in its very striking and mappishly handsome hardback edition. It’ll look absolutely gorgeous on your bookshelf in between re-reads – and I definitely believe there’ll be those because This Must Be The Place is such a multi-faceted read. I know I’ll be going back to it, not least to find out how Maggie O’Farrell manages to write so many truths about modern life; about people, their relationships and their emotions. This Must Be The Place is one of our finest writers at her brilliant best.
This Must Be The Place is Maggie O’Farrell’s seventh novel and is published in hardback and as an ebook by Tinder Press today. It is available from Amazon UK, Book Depository, Hive, and Waterstones. To find out more about Maggie O’Farrell and her books, you can check out her Author Website or Facebook Page.
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.