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Novel set in America and Ireland (mainly…)

20th May 2016

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell, novel set in America and Ireland (mainly)

At the heart of this book is the relationship – with all its up and downs – between Daniel Sullivan and Claudette Wells. The novel is not a linear progression from the early days into later years, but more like a proscenium with a revolving stage of characters, scenes and settings. Claudette herself is an actress which adds to the theatrical flavour of the book.

novel set in America and IrelandEach chapter has a title, date, character and setting to lead the reader in. The dates are not chronological which certainly kept me on my toes, and the odd new character slides in under the radar – a quick mental tally, has this character appeared yet, have I forgotten who it is? – only to be soothed into neatly rounded, self sufficient chapters. It is often through the eyes of others that the jigsaw pieces of this often fractured relationship fall into place. It is also through oddities like Claudette’s memorabilia from the Auction Catalogue that we get a different angle on the relationship: “Claudette Wells Memorabilia” highlights illustrated items that add tiny insights into her former life (the author herself is apparently a keen collector of vintage finds, items that “have had a previous life”). Daniel says: “I have absorbed information I don’t yet know what to do with…” and this is very much around for the reader, as we accumulate insights and information and seek to piece together a whole picture.

As the book opens in Donegal 2010, Daniel and quixotic Claudette are already married. After a bit of gun toting on their land, they head off on an errand with the children in their car. Cast back a couple of years, and a few chapters hence, and Daniel is touring Ireland, in the company of his Grandfather’s ashes, when he comes across Claudette, a fabulously beautiful actress who has fled her former relationship. She is now  living incognito on the Emerald Isle with her son. There is an immediate bond between her son and Daniel, because Daniel is an expert in linguistics and her son Ari has speaking difficulties.

The story is like a skeleton forming the basic construct. Then add on the internal organs, more bones, and wrap up in skin, and the story reflects the multitude of facets that comprise an adult intimate relationship, soft, hard, unforgiving, resilient, malleable and at times loving… One laceration however is the news of an old flame, Nicola Janks, that cuts deeply into the Sullivan-Wells marriage,

The book moves languidly between the mid 1980s and the present. It is beautifully written, constructed at an absorbing pace. The variety of settings – locale of course being the main driver behind TripFiction – takes the reader around the world, some locations are evocatively brought to life, others function as a mere backdrop. As in the title, This Must Be The Place –  and much as in a relationship – we touch down, but inevitably never really remain static or rooted, there is always movement both forward and back, with appreciation of the here and now; life, like travel, is all about fleeting glimpses…..

Characterisation is fascinating. Claudette is a flame hearted woman, full of passion (and she is the ‘toter’ of the gun at the beginning). What of Daniel? Likeable, charming, riven with foibles, the kind of man who would seek out a strong woman, but such liaisons ultimately highlight his weaknesses (and there are indeed quite a few); such an imbalance in a couple relationship is hard to navigate.

Find out how these two get on and buy the book. It’s a classically excellent read…..

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Here the author reads from her book for Waterstones

You can connect with Maggie via her website

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  1. User: Anne Williams

    Posted on: 20/05/2016 at 6:22 pm

    That’s one excellent review Bettina. This was one of those books that had me grappling for words i didn’t have – I think you might have found them.