Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: This Must Be the Place

By Sara Steven

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? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

There are so many layers to Daniel, and to this story. Initially, I found myself going back and forth between several chapters, ensuring I had the correct characters linked together, that I was on the same page. To say that Daniel lives a complicated life would be an understatement, yet it’s so true to the nature of most of us. There are so many layers to our own lives, so many connections that we often miss or don’t recognize. I appreciated the great lengths Maggie O’Farrell went to, in order to perfect this.

Even though Daniel reflects back on the woman he’d lost touch with twenty years ago, the true epicenter begins with Daniel and Claudette. While she’s hiding away from the world and trying hard to close the door on the life she once lived, Daniel discovers who she really is while he’s also hiding from his own failures. Unfortunately, the truth almost always reveals itself, no matter how many years go by, and soon they find themselves facing the past and having a hard time overcoming it. They both bring so much baggage to this relationship, it’s hard for either of them to let go.

The complexity of the story and its characters can at times feel overwhelming, but in a good way. There’s such a stark reality to it all; even when I felt as though I couldn’t read another page, I couldn’t put it down. At times, I found myself angry with Daniel, or with Claudette. I wanted to jump into the pages and shake shoulders, offering up my own advice in order to save them from the inevitable train wreck that looms ahead. In other moments, I could identify and see the wisdom from their own experiences. It was an interesting way to feel about two fictional characters.

This Must Be the Place would never be classified as a simple, easy read. It’is a work of art, engaging, enabling you to slow down and take your time with its characters. Well worth the time you’ll put into it.

Thanks to Knopf for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Maggie O'Farrell: