This Must Be The Place
Each chapter of this novel could almost stand alone as a short story. Set in different places and times, and from varying perspectives, the different sections provide pieces of a jigsaw that forms the central narrative. While some are tangental – a list of items put up from sale or the story of adoption of a baby from China, they all act as oblique ways to reference and flesh out the lives of the central two characters, Claudette and Daniel.
There are periods and places that are familiar, others more exotic. The effect of this approach is two fold. Each chapter feels like beginning again, having to be as awake with one’s reading as in the first chapter of a new book, looking for the cues and information that might be referred to later on. This creates a watchfulness in the reader. Much of what is revealed will not be referred to again, but some of it is – it’s like going again and again into a flea market and the stock keeps changing.
The second effect is that although interesting there are moments of disjointedness that feel less satisfying and the emotional connectedness with characters waxes and wanes with the focus of the story.
It is a compliment to O’Farrell’s writing that I often wanted more from these interlude pieces, particularly for events surrounding Daniel’s mother and father.
It raises the question about whose story this is? Without the scattered romantic elements and denouement the whole narrative would appear far more diffuse in focus.
Altogether O’Farrell is convincing. She has everything all securely in her head and carefully selects what to give the reader. It is rewarding to persevere, to stay awake. After all there is no reason why every chapter shouldn’t demand our attention as much as the first.
Orkney, September 2018