Excerpt from This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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This Must Be the Place

A novel

by Maggie O'Farrell

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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Print Excerpt

The Strangest Feeling in My Legs

Daniel
Donegal, 2010


There is a man.

He's standing on the back step, rolling a cigarette. The day is typically unstable, the garden lush and shining, the branches weighty with still-falling rain.

There is a man and the man is me.

I am at the back door, tobacco tin in hand, and I am watching something in the trees, a figure, standing at the perimeter of the garden, where the aspens crowd in at the fence. Another man.

He's carrying a pair of binoculars and a camera.

A -bird--watcher, I am telling myself as I pull the frail paper along my tongue, you get them in these parts. But at the same time I'm thinking, -Really? -Bird--watching, this far up the valley? I'm also thinking, Where is my daughter, the baby, my wife? How quickly could I reach them, if I needed to?

My heart cranks into high gear, -thud--thudding against my ribs. I squint into the white sky. I am about to step out into the garden. I want the guy to know I've seen him, to see me seeing him. I want him to register my size, my former -track--and--field--star physique (slackening and loosening a little, these days, admittedly). I want him to run the odds, me versus him, through his head. He's not to know I've never been in a fight in my life and intend it to stay that way. I want him to feel what I used to feel before my father disciplined me: I am on to you, he would say, with a pointing finger, directed first at his chest, then mine.

I am on to you, I want to yell while I fumble to pocket my cigarette and lighter.

The guy is looking in the direction of the house. I see the tinder spark of sun on a lens and a movement of his arm that could be the brushing away of a hair across the forehead or the depression of a camera shutter.

Two things happen very fast. The dog—a whiskery, leggy, slightly arthritic wolfhound, usually given to sleeping by the stove— streaks out of the door, past my legs, and into the garden, emitting a volley of low barks, and a woman comes around the side of the house.

She has the baby on her back, she is wearing the kind of sou'wester hood usually sported by North Sea fishermen, and she is holding a shotgun.

She is also my wife.

The latter fact I still have trouble adjusting to, not only because the idea of this creature ever agreeing to marry me is highly improbable, but also because she pulls unexpected shit like this all the time.

"Jesus, honey," I gasp, and I am momentarily distracted by how shrill my voice is. "Unmanly" -doesn't cover it. I sound as if I'm admonishing her for an -ill--judged choice in soft furnishings or for wearing pumps that clash with her purse.

She ignores my high-pitched intervention—who can blame her?—and fires into the air. Once, twice.

If, like me, you've never heard a gun report at close range, let me tell you the noise is an ear shattering explosion. Magnesium-hued lights go off inside your head; your ears ring with the three-bar high note of an aria; your sinuses fill with tar.

The sound ricochets off the side of the house, off the flank of the mountain, then back again: a huge aural tennis ball bouncing about the valley. I realize that while I'm ducking, cringing, covering my head, the baby is strangely unmoved. He's still sucking his thumb, head leaning against the spread of his mother's hair. Almost as if he's used to this. Almost as if he's heard it all before.

I straighten up. I take my hands off my ears. Far away, a figure is sprinting through the undergrowth. My wife turns around. She cracks the gun in the crook of her arm. She whistles for the dog. "Ha," she says to me before she vanishes back around the side of the house. "That'll show him."

Excerpted from This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell. Copyright © 2016 by Maggie O'Farrell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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