This Must Be The Place is the seventh novel by Irish author Maggie O’Farrell. Her novels are renown for their delicate exploration of relationships, whether it be familial or romantic, and her elegant prose adds more to the charm, making her novels well-loved by readers.
Unfortunately, I have been living under a rock — I have never read a Maggie O’Farrell novel before this one. The big initial sell of This Must Be The Place for me was that it involved travelling, and I was only too happy to delve into a book that contains my other favourite activity. The fascinating premise supplemented my interest: it purports to be a book that “crosses continents and time zones [..]” and “at its heart, [..] an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together, and the pressures that drive it apart.”
The primary characters are Daniel Sullivan, an American linguistics living in a remote corner of Donegal, Ireland, and his wife, Claudette Wells, a famous ex-actress who had disappeared from the public eye at the height of her popularity, and is since determined to live a hermitic life with her children. The novel details their present lives, their lives in their youth before they met, how their marriage came to be, and the challenge of keeping it together compounded by past history and personal demons.
As a virgin reader of Maggie O’Farrell books, I can definitely agree with the praise heaped on the author. In this novel, I found her absolutely deft in burrowing, pulling apart, and putting together the seams of personal relationships, without venturing into melodrama, saccharinity, or over grittiness. Some elements, to me, felt fantastical at times — Claudette’s reclusion is so severe, she absolutely insists on living in a house where ten gates needs to be opened before getting relatively close to it (how inconvenient is that when you suddenly run out of some food or toiletry item?) — but it is anchored so well in the other believable elements, which is Daniel’s personal struggle and his marriage with Claudette.
Other reviews say this was a more ambitious novel than O’Farrell’s previous books. I obviously cannot make the same comparison, but I can say that it has such a broad scope — it jumps backward in time where it may be set in a different place from the preceding chapter. Sometimes, the plot runs somewhat concurrently in terms of time frame, but different characters would be living in various countries or cities. Aside from Ireland, the reader gets to be in New York, London, California, Bolivia, bits of China and India. Different years, different character POVs; complicated but never confusing. O’Farrell is a skilled literary painter of a portrait of a marriage that, despite being in a somewhat fanciful background, feels real and relatable.
“We must pursue what’s in front of us, not what we can’t have or what we have lost.”
– Maggie O’Farrell, This Must Be The Place
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*A great and many thanks to Tinder Press for the advanced copy. This review was in no way influenced by this circumstance, however, and I would have freely lambasted this book if it was what it deserved.