: “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 ridiculousness that they do not know each other, the impossibility of them not seeing each other again”
This Must Be The Place is the seventh novel by British author, Maggie O’Farrell. Claudette Wells is Daniel Sullivan’s second wife. Even after several years of living together in a remote corner of Donegal, and fathering two children with her, he still finds it hard to believe that this eccentric, occasionally crazy, reclusive and beautiful ex-film star ever agreed to marry him. Later, he will remember this, and wonder what possessed him to put all that at risk. But now, a chance snippet of a radio broadcast, heard on the way to the train, sets him on a path to his past.
Daniel heads off to New York, to his (not at all beloved) father’s 90th birthday party, makes an unplanned detour to California see the son and daughter from whom he has been kept for nine years by a vindictive ex-wife, then detours again to Sussex. What he learns there has such a profound effect on him, it threatens to derail the best thing in his life.
O’Farrell has done it again! This extended family, this cast of characters, they pull the reader in. She draws each of them so well, with all their flaws and foibles, that the reader cannot help but find them appealing, hoping that things will turn out okay for them, laughing with them when they do and shedding a tear or two when they don’t.
The story is told by many different characters: the perspective of some is given numerous times; others share their perceptions only once; conveniently, each chapter is clearly marked with the character and the time period; as well as contributing to the main story, these alternate views give vignettes of other, associated lives; most are conventional first-person or third-person narratives, but there is a second-person one, one with footnotes, a transcript of an interview, and even an auction catalogue with images; the chapter headings are phrases lifted from the text therein, producing a tiny resonance when they are read in context.
O’Farrell’s descriptive prose is wonderfully evocative: “An amount of time later – he isn’t sure exactly how much – Daniel is walking in through the gates of the cemetery. He comes here at least once a day. It gives him an aim, a kind of routine. He makes his way along the gravelled path, letting his eye rest on the hundreds and hundreds of gravestones, watching the way they pull themselves into diagonal columns as he passes, then unpeel themselves, then line up again. An endless process of arrangement and disarrangement” is one example.
“He thinks of his grief over his sister as an entity that is horribly and painfully attached to him, the way a jellyfish might adhere to your skin or a goitre or an abscess. He pictures it as viscid, amorphous, spiked, hideous to behold. He finds it unbelievable that no one else can see it. Don’t mind that, he would say, it’s just my grief. Please ignore it and carry on with what you were saying” is another example.
Fans of O’Farrell’s earlier novels will not be disappointed. Readers new to her work are sure to seek out her backlist. Yet another O’Farrell novel that is an unadulterated pleasure to read.