This Must Be the Place

this-must-be-the-placeDaniel Sullivan lives in a secluded corner of Ireland with his wife and their children. As this novel by Maggie O’Farrell opens, he makes these observations about the woman he married:

—She’s crazy, as I might have mentioned.
—She’s a recluse.
—She’s apparently willing to pull a gun on anyone threatening to uncover her hiding place.

It turns out that there’s a lot more to Claudette. She’s a former actress and filmmaker who mysteriously disappeared with her infant son years earlier and ended up in a run-down Irish house, never revealing her identity. Daniel recognized her but kept her secret, and only a handful of people from her former life knew where to find her.

O’Farrell spins out Daniel and Claudette’s past, present, and future by moving around in time, giving each a chance to speak. Also included are the stories of those who’ve known them, such as Daniel’s daughter from an earlier marriage and Claudette’s sister-in-law. Most of the chapters are in third-person, but some of the characters, especially Daniel and Claudette, speak in their own voices. The structure could be confusing, but most of the time, it kept me reading, wondering what secret from the past would be revealed next.

One of the most impressive aspects of this book is how expansive the story is. The focus is on Daniel, but when a chapter is devoted to an ancillary character, that character is given a fully formed life that exists outside and beyond his or her relationship to Daniel. We’re able to see that every person has a history that informs his or her actions, whether in response to Daniel or just in general. Most of the characters are flawed, some very seriously flawed, but they’re also dealing with challenges. And whether that challenge is a skin disease, bulimia, or profound grief, it is taken seriously by the narrative.

I also appreciated that the book is hopeful without being cloying. I needed a book like this, where sometimes decent people foul things up beyond repair without losing their essential decency, where sometimes things just get ruined by mischance or small mistakes, and where sometimes people still manage to find ways to live and be together. This is a great book that seems to have fallen between the cracks in the book world this year. Here’s hoping people find it and enjoy it as much as I did.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.


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8 Responses to This Must Be the Place

  1. Jeanne says:

    Hopeful without being cloying…that does sound promising.

  2. This is one of those that I’ve somehow overlooked, but your review makes me want to add it to the TBR! Thanks!

    • Teresa says:

      It got a little buzz, mostly among UK bloggers, when it came out this summer, but I haven’t heard much about it since. I hope you decide to check it out!

  3. Ann Marie says:

    Great review! I’m not sure how this one got past me. When I added it to my (hopelessly unmanageable) TRB on Goodreads, I saw other great reviews from friends who have tastes similar to mine. It always makes me sad when I’m enthusiastic about a book that, for whatever reason, didn’t get the buzz I feel it deserved.

  4. Hopeful without being cloying is exactly what I need as well, right now — it’s kind of what I’ve been looking for. But instead of that I am reading a book about a fictional Jewish state and a murder investigation. Maybe hopeless-not-cloying can be my next thing, as it’s been quite a while since I read a Maggie O’Farrell book and I’m generally high on her.

    • Teresa says:

      I love unrelentingly dark books, but sometimes it’s nice to read a book where things are terrible and the people are a mess, but they seem like maybe they’ll turn out ok. That’s how this was.

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