The dazzling new novel from Sunday Times bestselling, Costa Novel Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE crosses time zones and continents to reveal an extraordinary portrait of a marriage.
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 crosses continents and time zones, giving voice to a diverse and complex cast of characters. At its heart, it is an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart.
It’s no secret that I’m a massive Maggie O’Farrell fan so I was beside myself with excitement a few weeks ago when a proof copy arrived in the post!
This Must Be The Place is a novel set across different time frames and continents featuring many different characters but it’s predominantly about the marriage of Claudette and Daniel – two people who have both been trying to run away from their respective pasts but the problem with running away is that things usually catch up with you eventually. Claudette settles in to a new life to a degree but is never able to be herself when outside of her home, and Daniel is just a damaged soul who wants to do the right thing but finds himself compelled to fix previous wrongs, leading to cracks in his current life. It is also a novel about how seemingly tiny decisions can alter the course of someone’s life in such a dramatic way; how a miscommunication or a seemingly small misunderstanding can set people on a course that there is no way back from. It’s about how history can almost repeat itself through the generations but if small things are done differently the outcome can be different.
Daniel has made a lot of mistakes in his life. He has an ex-wife who has prevented him seeing his two children grow up. He’s remarried and has two children with his new wife but one day he discovers something from his past and it sets him off on a tangent that can potentially destroy his marriage and ruin his life. He seems doomed to end up on his own and unhappy. Daniel is a good man at heart, but he’s also a man who made one mistake many years ago and this seems destined to be his undoing in his present. It’s quite apparent that he really should just leave well alone but, it proved impossible for him to resist the lure of what could have been.
Maggie O’Farrell has used speech, words and sounds to great effect in this novel. There are repeated references throughout the novel to the use of language and the way words sound. At times it’s done in a playful way, like when Rosalind ‘trumpety trumped’ off on her adventure just like Nelly the elephant, and at other times it’s done to draw attention to people’s inability to say what they mean and to show the heartache it can then cause throughout the years. It was a great irony in this novel that Daniel, who has failed so often to say the right thing at the right time; or has said the right thing but too late; or he’s just said completely the wrong thing, is a linguistic professor. Daniel spends his days working with language and thinking about words, and yet he seems incapable of communicating openly with the people closest to him. He cuts all contact with his best friend, he takes too long to write a letter to a girlfriend and the consequences are devastating, he tries to communicate with his first two children but his ex- wife seemingly has prevented it.
It is mentioned a couple of times that Daniel’s mother had taught him about the importance of a genuine apology to resolve any situation. Daniel uses this to almost manipulate his best friend in order to get information that he feels entitled to about the past. It was uncomfortable to see Daniel being so callous, but he was on the beginning of his path to self-destruction at this point and can’t make his way back from it. Daniel does grow as a person as the novel progresses. He learns from his children that he has to grow up, his eldest son Niall, in particular, becomes a parent figure to him and gets him through the darkest moments and Daniel does actually learn from this. There is an apology near the end of the novel that is completely spontaneous where Daniel says what he feels from his heart in the moment, with no aim to gain anything or to manipulate, it is just him stating what he sees as a fact and it is a beautiful thing to read.
There are numerous voices that are heard in this novel, and each new perspective adds depth to what has gone before, even when initially you are wondering how this can possibly be connected. The back and forth of the timeframe adds new layers to Daniel’s story and we get to understand him more and more. There are moments that foretell what is yet to come for the characters and it leaves you with such a sense of dread wondering when the rug will be pulled from under the character concerned. The little cliffhangers that occur at the end of some chapters are soon returned to and you get the answer you were wondering about but nothing is ever straightforward. It is how real life is, and Maggie O’Farrell is the master of capturing this – no one does it better than her.
Maggie O’Farrell’s writing is sublime; she writes in such a way that all of her characters feel like real people and there were many times when the conversation between characters was so realistic that I felt like I was listening in behind a door. This Must Be The Place is an incredible novel. There are multiple characters and multiple timelines and it’s all pulled together in a way that is just sheer perfection. There is so much heart in this book: it has humour and wit, heartache and healing, and it’s all just so real and believable. There is such beauty in the way Maggie O’Farrell writes – the way she uses language, the way she constructs each sentence. It’s stunningly beautiful.
I always feel bereft when I get to the end of one of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels and I always feel like I want to immediately go back to the beginning and read it all again and I was no different with this book. It’s an absolute joy to read, I read it in just two sittings as once I started it I just couldn’t bear to put it down. There are not enough superlatives to describe this book; it is quite simply a masterpiece!
I rate this novel five out of five, but I would score it much higher if it was actually possible to do so. I know right now that This Must Be The Place will be in my top 10 books of this year, it was quite simply outstanding.
This Must Be The Place is due to be published on 17 May and is available for preorder now.
I received a copy of this novel from Tinder Press via BookBridgr in exchange for an honest review.