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This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
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This Must Be the Place (2017)

by Maggie O'Farrell

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Synopsis
In deciding how to describe this book, I pulled up Amazon to see how it was summarized. I don’t recommend you do this. This book gets billed as a love story—which I suppose it is, but if that’s your thing, This Must Be The Place will disappoint. At its heart, This Must Be The Place isn’t a love story so much as it’s a relationship story—a story of the relationship between two sets of children and their father, between a husband and wife, a son and his father, a man and the world around him that drives him to his knees.

Daniel, disappointed and alienated from his children, finds himself in Ireland retrieving his grandfather’s ashes when he stumbles upon Claudette Wells—THE Claudette Wells—famous actress/writer/producer turned recluse. As the two begin a relationship, the narrative travels back and forth in time, revealing what drove Claudette and Daniel to that back road in Ireland and what will ultimately drive them forward.

Structure & Writing
I adored This Must Be The Place. The chapters bounce around in time and viewpoint—most are straight narrative but some are correspondence, interview transcription, or auction lot descriptions. In many ways, the book reads as a series of interconnected short stories—this isn’t quite accurate since each of the chapters can’t stand entirely on their own, though many of them probably could. Because the story is being told in bits and afterthoughts from several characters introducing you to Claudette and Daniel from the side rather than head-on, the book is long. Many of the chapters had lengthy set up for what seemed perhaps like a minor payoff—some small part of Claudette revealed. And yet it was searching for these little payoffs—wondering how this chapter about adopting a child from China was going to introduce me to a piece of Claudette or Daniel’s life—that made the book so engaging for me. I searched for clues amidst the words. And yet, the writing was strong enough and the side-characters largely engaging enough that I didn’t mind the extra work. I enjoyed the ride. The comparison isn’t perfect since, as I noted, This Must Be The Place, isn’t truly a book of stories that can all stand on their own, but I found myself thinking of Olive Kitteridge. Some of the stories in Strout’s book feature Olive prominently and you learn quite a bit about her in one story. In others, she is the briefest of side characters and you read twenty pages to learn very little new about her. This is how some of the chapters were in The Must Be The Place.

This structure, however, is something that drove other readers in the MMD Book Club a little nuts. O’Farrell uses this technique well but it makes the book on long, non-standard-narrative and the payoff in some of the chapters is small. If this kind of device isn’t usually your thing, you may find This Must Be The Place to be meandering in a way that loses you. If this doesn’t usually bother you, then I highly recommend you give This Must Be The Place a try.

Characters
As I noted, the two main characters are Claudette—a famous actress who suddenly disappeared from public view one day—and Daniel, a somewhat ordinary man who stumbles upon her hiding place and becomes her husband. At first blush, it’s hard to feel sorry for Claudette—she’s a famous actress who could seemingly do no wrong in her writing and acting, beloved the world over. How hard could her life be? And yet, the farther you go, you see that the life Claudette fled was never the life she intended and it was far lonelier than it appeared on the outside. Her eccentricities are, in many ways, things she needed to do to feel a semblance of normalcy after her life grew out of her control.

Daniel seems to be the sympathetic character, the reasonable character, the character you want to cheer for. And yet, there comes a point towards the back third of the book when you realize that maybe you didn’t know him nearly as well as you thought you did. That there are things about his personality that call into question some of the earlier things he told the reader. It was a masterful change—one that was surprising and yet utterly not once the cards were on the table.

In Sum
I said it already—I adored this book. I’m glad I snapped up a copy when it was on sale on Kindle and I plan to go back into O’Farrell’s back list and read more of her work. Her writing was smart, at times funny and others pulling at my heartstrings, but never saccharine. If you know the narrative structure won’t be a distraction for you and you have time for a slightly longer (400 pages) book, give This Must Be The Place a read.

More reviews: http://lisaannreads.com ( )
  ImLisaAnn | Apr 12, 2018 |
Highly narrative and quite a page turner. Contains many narratives of the different characters involved or at least related to the main story. At times I found this disconcerting and I am not at all fond of flashback so that I even skipped a couple of chapters/stories. But in the end this skillful author has timed the main story and character development in such a way that I had to read the final chapters without a break -- good thing it was a lazy Sunday morning. ( )
  amaraki | Jan 21, 2018 |
Another book from a Dalkey Book Festival attendee, I enjoyed the writing a lot, the characters were well drawn. ( )
  mhanlon | Dec 23, 2017 |
Character driven novels are my favorite genre. I, therefore loved this book. Daniel marries Claudette with a lot of baggage, some of which he is unable to communicate to his wife. Throughout the book we learn the history of their lives as well as the situation with their children. Some chapters are devoted to minor characters and even though I pondered whether we needed those stories, I always found them absorbing for they added something about the Daniel and Claudette. ( )
  debann6354 | Sep 17, 2017 |
Ms. O’Farrell has drawn a brilliant analogy for her style of writing early in the book. The main character, Daniel, a linguist, tells Ari, upon their first meeting, to try and find another word when Ari starts stuttering. Magic! Ari is able to conjure not one but ten words without a stutter. O’Farrell uses multitudinous similes continuously and seamless throughout the book. Her point is made convincingly and we know how she feels about her characters on each page. I will admit to moments when I muttered, “OK, I get it”.

Her chapters give each character a voice, a time frame, a situation and room for the reader to wonder how this will all play out while allowing the story to move on. The pieces fall into place, we see the disasters in the distance, we realize we may care about these people and we wish for hope, faith, redemption, caring, love.

A brief aside - As I was reading the book the lyrics from a song by The Clash kept resonating: “Should I stay or should I go?”!
( )
1 vote kimkimkim | Aug 21, 2017 |
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El mundo está más loco de lo que creemos, y todavía más, incorregiblemente diverso.
Snow. Louis MacNeice
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A Vilmos
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Un hombre.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385349424, Hardcover)

An irresistible love story for fans of The Beautiful Ruins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette: Maggie O'Farrell's This Must Be the Place is a smart, sophisticated, spellbinding summer read that captures the collapse--and reawakening--of an extraordinary marriage.

Daniel Sullivan, a young American professor reeling from a failed marriage and a brutal custody battle, is on holiday in Ireland when he falls in love with Claudette, a world-famous sexual icon and actress who fled fame for a reclusive life in a rural village. Together, they make an idyllic life in the country, raising two more children in blissful seclusion--until a secret from Daniel's past threatens to destroy their meticulously constructed and fiercely protected home. What follows is a journey through Daniel's many lives told in his voice and the voices of those who have made him the man he is: the American son and daughter he has not seen for many years; the family he has made with Claudette; and irrepressible, irreverent Claudette herself. Shot through with humor and wisdom, This Must Be the Place is a powerful rumination on the nature of identity, and the complexities of loyalty and devotion--a gripping story of an extraordinary family and an extraordinary love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 21 Jan 2016 11:06:24 -0500)

"Daniel Sullivan, a young American professor reeling from a failed marriage and a brutal custody battle, is on holiday in Ireland when he falls in love with Claudette, a world famous sexual icon and actress who fled fame for a reclusive life in a rural village. Together, they make an idyllic life in the country, raising two more children in blissful seclusion until a secret from Daniel's past threatens to destroy their meticulously constructed and fiercely protected home. What follows is a journey through Daniel's many lives told in his voice and the voices of those who have made him the man he is: the American son and daughter he has not seen for many years; the family he has made with Claudette; and irrepressible, irreverent Claudette herself. Shot through with humor and wisdom, This Must Be the Place is a powerful rumination on the nature of identity, and the complexities of loyalty and devotion a gripping story of an extraordinary family and an extraordinary love"--… (more)

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