Daniel 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.