Maggie O’Farrell’s “This Must Be the Place”, releasing this week (7/19/16) in the United States, is a delightfully complex story of the most basic elements of human existence – love, life, and loss. Daniel Sullivan, a brilliant and troubled linguist, is hapless when it comes to his relationships with women. That is, until he meets Claudette Wells, a Boticellian former movie star who has fled the world and set up her own enigmatic hideaway world in Donegal, Ireland. Daniel’s idyll is, of course, short-lived, as once again he finds life under threat from his own bad luck and sordid history. What follows is this witty and charming story.
“This Must Be the Place”thumbs its nose at linearity and chronology. In each chapter – and often within a chapter – time, space, and point of view change. This constant pogo-ing could have been incredibly jarring but was, in fact, brilliant and seamless. Far from being random, O’Farrell’s writing is considered, and I never lost confidence in her plan. Her characters were eminently interesting and her use of time and space keeps the reader engaged. As if this weren’t enough, O’Farrell’s writing is full of tongue-in-cheek wit, tasty morsels which continuously reward the reader.
“My wife, I should tell you, is crazy. Not in a requiring-medication-and-wards-and-men-in-white-coats sense – although I sometimes wonder if there may have been times in her past – but in a subtle, more socially acceptable, less ostentatious way. She doesn’t think like other people. …Here are the bare facts about the woman I 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.”
“…in his biodegradable, organic-cotton T-shirt, sourced from Scandinavian forests and dyed with the feathers of chickens fed on locally sourced grain or whatever the fuck it is he’s wearing today…”
“When Todd and Suki heard that an American exchange student was being billeted in the vacant room in the eaves of their graduate flat, they were not pleased. They pictured a toothy type with trainers and V-necks and white socks. They pictured someone who might, of all things, attend church. Americans were religious, weren’t they? He would have hot-dog-scented breath, a penchant for soft rock, and a backpack full of college sweatshirts. He would want to join fraternities.”
“My heart has taken it upon itself to perform a series of trips or tricks inside my rib cage: a type of cardiac pratfall. It has decided to miss or stumble over every tenth or eleventh beat. The effect is one of unremitting anxiety, interspersed with spikes of panic. I have to press my hand to my chest, as if to reassure my heart, to tell it to behave.”
Maggie O’Farrell’s forthcoming book was just what I needed. “This Must Be the Place” is wonderful, full of depth and darkness without being even slightly disheartening; bright and hopeful without being remotely saccharine. A perfect read on a summer day or whenever life needs a ray of sunshine.
Thank you to Alfred. A. Knopf Publisher for the complimentary advanced reader copy of this book.