Book Review: This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
“I have a theory...that marriages end not because of something you did say but because of something you didn’t. All you have to do now is work out what it is.”
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell is the story of Daniel Sullivan and Claudette Wells. It is told through different characters at different points in their lives, weaving together an incredible story about marriage, commitment, and infidelity. Daniel is an American linguist who stumbles upon Claudette and her son in Donegal, Ireland, while trying to find his grandfather’s ashes. What he doesn’t realize until he leaves her is that she is the Claudette Wells, the reclusive actress who up and vanished in the middle of the night. As their love story begins, O’Farrell takes us through past stories of Daniel and Claudette before they even meet to present day with their children. This Must Be the Place is one of the best multiple narrator books I have read.
Daniel studied for some time in England in the 1980s, where he was in a serious relationship with Nicola Janks. But they went their separate ways and Daniel returned to the States, married his first wife and had two children, Niall and Phoebe. As his marriage is imploding, his wife refuses to abide by their joint custody agreement, and Daniel takes off to Ireland to take a break. When he happens upon Claudette and her son Ari (who has a bad stammer), his life is completely changed. Claudette and Daniel fall in love and then go on to have two more children, Marithe and Calvin. Daniel hasn’t seen Niall and Phoebe since he left the United States, but when he flies to New York to celebrate his father’s birthday (with whom he has a horrible relationship), he decides to fly out to California to see his children for the first time in almost a decade. Then as he is about to return home to Donegal, he calls Claudette to let her know that he is going to detour for a day or two in Sussex to visit an old friend. This completely backfires on Daniel because Claudette immediately suspects he is cheating on her, since he does have a history of infidelity from his first marriage. But in reality, he is going to visit his friend Todd and discover what happened to Nicola.
Claudette quickly became the sought-after actress after she teamed up with Timou Lindstrom, a famous Swedish experimental director and writer. After Timou convinces Claudette to star in his movie, they begin a romantic and professional relationship and make movies together. However, Claudette is very resistant to the celebrity lifestyle, especially giving interviews. So after a time, Claudette plans an elaborate disappearance with Ari. She then moves to a remote farm on the outskirts of Donegal, Ireland, where she fixes up the house.
I loved seeing the relationship between Daniel and all of his kids, even with Ari. Even though he makes some questionable decisions when it comes to women, he clearly loves his children so much and only wants the best for them. When something horrific happens later in the book, I found myself gutted for Daniel and could forgive him for his poor choices following this event.
Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy wrote a post a few weeks ago about this book and how she found the quote above so applicable to her life after a friend of hers was shot dead in a random act of violence. Now this quote is in regards to marriage, but the sentiment remains the same. There are so many times where I have avoided going out or meetings friends for drinks or whatnot, and this made me wonder what if something tragic happens, and I never got to tell that person how much she means to me. In This Must Be the Place, Daniel receives this advice from a random woman whose marriage has ended. And at first Daniel doesn’t understand the advice; he only sees its simplicity, but when he and Claudette speak again, he finally says what he should have said more in their marriage.
I have always been a sucker for novels set in the United Kingdom and Ireland. O’Farrell is Irish herself, and she just paints an incredible picture of where Claudette lives. The isolated land seems magical, and I can just imagine what the house looked like, with Claudette updating it constantly over the years. The whole setting makes me want to book a trip to Ireland as soon as possible. Anyone else?
I thoroughly enjoyed This Must Be the Place. I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s writing and look forward to reading more of her work. I give it 4 stars.
What are some of your favorite novels that take place in Ireland?