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This Must Be The Place

Maggie O’far­rell ( Tin­der Press, £18.99)

This ac­com­plished new novel from award-win­ning writer maggie o’far­rell is the com­pelling story of daniel and Claudette. We meet the cou­ple in 2010, in their home in done­gal, where daniel is per­suad­ing him­self that a man hid­ing in the trees with cam­era and binoc­u­lars is just a bird­watcher, when Claudette ap­pears, baby on her back, and fires a shot­gun into the air: ‘ha, that’ll show him.’

Claudette is im­me­di­ately, cap­ti­vat­ingly mys­te­ri­ous: a for­mer film star and now a recluse, who will stop at noth­ing to pro­tect her hid­ing place. mean­while, miss o’far­rell points us to­wards daniel’s equally in­trigu­ing story when she shows him to be pro­foundly af­fected by cer­tain chance en­coun­ters.

These in­spire him to root into the messy un­knowns of his past, ask­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions, con­fronting mis­takes and risk­ing ev­ery­thing he has to re­gain something from the losses that haunt him. six years later, he will re­flect: ‘how dif­fer­ent it all might have been, how minis­cule the causes and how dev­as­tat­ing their ef­fects.’

With each new chap­ter, the au­thor deftly al­ters the nar­ra­tive voice as she turns to a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, time and place linked to daniel and Claudette’s story, such as daniel’s mother in Brook­lyn, 1944; Claudette’s brother in Cum­bria, 1995; and even an ap­par­ent stranger, Ros­alind, in Bo­livia, 2015. it’s a leap into a more ex­per­i­men­tal style for miss o’far­rell and — thanks to her skill as a sto­ry­teller, her nu­anced in­sight into char­ac­ter and her eye for re­veal­ing de­tail—it’s a tri­umph.

her struc­ture demon­strates how an in­di­vid­ual’s story is in­escapably in­ter­twined with the paths of oth­ers, how the world is ‘in­cor­ri­gi­bly plu­ral’, as she points out in her epi­graph from Louis macNe­ice. each chap­ter is in­di­vid­u­ally poignant; cu­mu­la­tively, as the story of daniel and Claudette is pieced to­gether, they yield im­mense rich­ness and depth. Emily Rhodes

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