Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"This Must Be the Place," by Maggie O'Farrell

I love short stories and the occasional nonfiction book (memoirs, etc.), both of which I have been reading lately, but it is always good to get back to novels; novels feel like home. Exciting, different, familiar, loud, quiet, attention-grabbing, subtle versions of home, yes. But home. Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, “This Must Be the Place” (Knopf, 2016) has original (but familiar too) characters, intriguing relationships among the characters, and a satisfyingly unpredictable plot that in the end makes sense. The writing is masterful, without showing off or drawing too much attention to itself. I don’t want to say too much about the plot or risk giving away any of the secrets. But here’s a taste: the main character, Daniel, an academic, spends his life going back and forth among New York, California, and Ireland. He has two sets of children in two places far apart, and has been devastated by not being able to see one set for many years. He loves his wife and younger children now, but there is a huge secret about his family that has to stay hidden, and this secret dominates much of their lives. There is also another secret about his past, regarding his first true love, that he is suddenly reminded of and feels he has to investigate, a secret that intersects with his current life as well. As in most of my favorite novels, though, the important things are the characters, and marriage and family, and how intricately different they are in many ways, yet so similar in other ways. O’Farrell manages a beautiful balance between the unpredictable and surprising, on the one hand, and the known and recognizable, on the other. This is a rich, full novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
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