Summary and book reviews of This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell

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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About this Book

Book Summary

A dazzling novel from bestselling writer Maggie O'Farrell, winner of the Costa Novel Award—an irresistible love story that crisscrosses continents and time zones as it captures an extraordinary marriage, and an unforgettable family, with wit, humor, and deep affection.

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 pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse. 

But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

This Must be the Place is a novel about family, identity, and true love: an intimately drawn portrait of a marriage, both the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart.  O'Farrell writes with complexity, insight, and laugh-out-loud humor in a narrative that hurtles forward with powerful velocity and emotion. This Must be the Place is a sophisticated, spellbinding summer read from one of the UK's most highly acclaimed and best-loved novelists.

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&#...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. For an epigraph, O'Farrell selected a quote from a poem by Louis MacNeice: "World is crazier and more of it than we think, / Incorrigibly plural." What does this mean? Why do you think she chose it?
  2. We see various parts of the story through the eyes of more than a dozen characters, jumping back and forth in time. How do their points of view build on one another?
  3. Daniel introduces Claudette to readers by saying, "My wife, I should tell you, is crazy" (page 5). Now that you've read the entire novel, do you believe he means this?
  4. Why does Daniel's hearing Nicola Janks's voice on the radio set the entire story in motion?
  5. On page 31, Daniel thinks, "That same feeling of ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about This Must Be the Place. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Believability of Claudette being able to stay hidden?
I do not believe she could stay hidden in this day and age. The news media do not give up and our internet system goes everywhere - nancyh

Daniel introduces Claudette to readers by saying, "My wife, I should tell you, is crazy" (page 5). Do you agree?
Upon reflection after finishing the book, I thought this seemed to be a tactic of the author to set Daniel up as someone the reader should feel sympathetic to. The introduction of some of the characters seemed to immediately provide us with ... - barb23703

Do the chapters told from the perspective of minor characters add to your understanding of the characters? If so, how?
I will add to my previous response, having thought about this book for a while, that I think the different voices were essential to convey a big idea expressed by the story. This is not just a story of one man trying to come to terms with his past ... - JLPen77

Do you think Daniel's life would have ultimately been better or worse if he'd listened to Myrna's advice that he should go home? Have you ever received good advice that you didn't take?
I think his life would have been easier if he had taken her advice and, as other readers , have said been more forthcoming with Claudette. Bu being forthcoming and taking advice do not seem to have been his strong suits. - janen

Early in the novel Phoebe describes her feeling of dissociation. Later Marithe describes a similar sensation. What connections (other than their shared fathers) did you see between the girls? Did you see similar parallels between other characters as well?
ylhoff, I think your comment, "....could it be that by not speaking what the soul is feeling a person will create some level of dissociation?"is right on the money. While young people, especially girls, and especially in situations of family upheaval... - JLPen77

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Tenderhearted and character-driven, This Must Be the Place is entertaining, thoughtful and wise. Because the fictional portraits seem so real, it is impossible not to become caught up in Dan and Claudette's lives and read eagerly – and anxiously - to see how their story will be resolved.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus

Starred Review. The scenario is glamorous, the writing is stylish, the globe-trotting almost dizzying, but there's a satisfying core of untampered feeling as well…juicy and cool, this could be O'Farrell's U.S. breakthrough book.

The Guardian (UK)

This Must Be the Place is a tour de force ... a rare literary beast: both technically dazzling and deeply moving. It has all the structural and temporal playfulness of a Kate Atkinson novel while retaining the hallmark of emotional intensity for which O'Farrell has become renowned. It is her best novel to date, a book that surely confirms her as one of the UK's most assured, accomplished and inventive storytellers.

Sunday Mirror (UK)

Complex in scale, but carried off with dazzling grace. A rich, engrossing feast of a novel to lose yourself in.

The Sunday Express (UK)

There is tragedy, but also sharp comedy, and O'Farrell, skillful as ever, plays with the novel form…rewarding and humane.

The Mail on Sunday (UK)

Beautifully executed…a graceful, insightful exploration of a relationship in all its wonders and woes.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Her most ambitious novel to date, crisscrossing the Atlantic and three decades, and told from multiple perspectives, This Must Be the Place is one of the summer's most anticipated reads.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, best-selling author of Everybody's Fool
Maggie O'Farrell is a hugely gifted, sympathetic, and ambitious writer, and This Must Be the Place will send this reader—and, I suspect, many others—racing to her backlist.

Author Blurb Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Inventing, moving, and hilarious. I loved it.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

an unadulterated pleasure to read.
“She wasn’t going to look at him again, no, she wasn’t….. Then she did look and the same sensations hit again, like a row of dominoes toppling into each other: the towering sense of recognition, the disbelief that she doesn’t somehow know him, the ...   Read More

Nikki

Don't miss this one!
"This Must Be the Place" by Maggie O'Farrell can only be described as a perfect novel. I am in awe of O'Farrell's ability to create such a masterful story. It is beautifully constructed, with characters you really come to know and care about. Best...   Read More

Tired Bookreader

A Rare Find
This book is a true gem with believable characters and a refreshingly new story. The chapters' bouncing from year to year was a challenge (a few times I had to check to keep the story straight). The issues are relevant, feelings invoked are honest,...   Read More

maryh

Who Are You Really
Well written story involving a rather dysfunctional family of characters. Intriguing background of the main character, Charlotte, her loves, her children and her losses. Who doesn't want to change their identity and begin again? The choices we make ...   Read More

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Reclusive Celebrities

In Maggie O'Farrell's This Must be The Place, Claudette Wells is a movie star who has quit the world to live on a remote Irish farm. As unusual as this may seem, there are many real-life examples of celebrated individuals who have abandoned the public eye for a more private life.

Greta Garbo In 1932 the Hollywood superstar, Greta Garbo, playing the part of a dancer called Grusinskaya, famously uttered the words: "I want to be alone," in the movie Grand Hotel. It wasn't until nine years later however, at the age of thirty-six, that the actress announced a temporary break from her movie work — a break that marked the start of a 49-year period out of the limelight. Garbo lived alone in Manhattan until her death in 1990. The reason for her ...

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