Events, Fiction

Maggie O’Farrell at Blackwell’s, Oxford

There’s a chance you’re aware that Maggie O’Farrell has a new novel out – I may have mentioned it. She is doing a series of events promoting the books, one of which was a talk at Blackwell’s in Oxford with Sarah Franklin. I hadn’t organised myself to get hold of a ticket, but then my amazing friend Sam ended up having a spare ticket and invited me along – what luck!

I’ve seen Maggie O’Farrell talk about her work before, but it was still great to hear her in conversation about her new book. Sarah Franklin was a great interviewer and their talk was fascinating – I wish it had been recorded so I could share it with you here. Luckily the event was live-tweeted on the Tinder Press feed, so you can get a taste of the conversation there. Maggie talked about her inspirations for the novel, and how a few ideas for it slowly grew over several years, and finally came together to form This Must Be The Place. She is a charming speaker and it was a great relaxed evening; I even summoned the courage to ask a question!

The event started with Maggie reading from the opening of the novel, which was lovely – I always appreciate hearing an author read their work as it was meant to sound. And the evening ended with an informal signing – I got another first edition hardback of Maggie O’Farrell’s signed, which was great, and got to tell her how much I loved the book and the evening. A success!

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Maggie O’Farrell reading from This Must Be The Place

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Another signed Maggie O’Farrell for the collection (of two so far…)

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Comment, Fiction

Can We Take a Minute to Appreciate the New Maggie O’Farrell Hardback?!

I recently reviewed Maggie O’Farrell’s new book This Must Be The Place, after the publisher kindly sent me a lovely review copy. It was a very attractive review copy, but my hardback copy arrived today from Wordery, and my goodness it is beautiful. Whoever came up with and executed its design deserves all the awards. Here it is:

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The printed cover is just lovely – it reflects the various countries featured in the novel, but also looks beautiful. Well done Tinder Press!

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Fiction, Reviews

New Maggie O’Farrell! ‘This Must Be The Place’

I first started reading Maggie O’Farrell when the lovely Georgina Moore from Headline sent me a copy of her 2013 novel Instructions for a Heatwave. I fell in love with it and subsequently read two of O’Farrell’s earlier novels (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and After You’d Gone). Now that I’ve read her brand new novel, This Must Be The Place, I am convinced that Maggie O’Farrell is like a fine wine, improving with age. I liked After You’d Gone (which was her first novel) but found it a little unpolished; Esme Lennox was better; and her two most recent novels are even better than that. Each has been more rich and complex than the last, and it is wonderful to see O’Farrell’s writing develop over time. That said I still plan to read some more of her earlier work, because I know it will still be great.

review copy courtesy of the publisher

review copy courtesy of the publisher

This Must Be The Place centres around Daniel Sullivan and his family. There are multiple timelines and chapters from multiple perspectives, but don’t let this complexity put you off. O’Farrell joins everything together with a common thread and the chapters are organised in such a way that each bit of the story leads into the next, and you don’t get lost or confused. It reminded a bit of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, in which multiple narrators present their version of the same story; here, a similar technique is used to create a rounded picture of a shared life. Daniel’s life is inextricably mixed up with those of his family members, and this web of lives is beautifully described. No one is completely alone, and everything that happens has some sort of ripple effect, demonstrating that family life is shared and nothing – and no one – is isolated within it. Even when the family are spread out across countries, their life is always connected.

The importance of family is an important theme in This Must Be The Place; the importance of family despite all the bad things. This novel is filled with imperfect relationships that felt true to life, full of ups and downs over the years and the small (and sometimes big) dramas of everyday life. Daniel’s story is slowly unfolded and developed, as is that of his wife Claudette, who, suffice to say, has had a rather interesting life. The fact that she used to be a film star and is now effectively a recluse, with the media not knowing if she is even still alive, could be a bit high concept; but O’Farrell tells her story with sympathy and enough feeling that we can see some of the complexity of Claudette and the situation she finds herself in, and although she has had a remarkable life, she still seems quite down to earth. Her story shows that when it comes to relationships and making the right choices, nothing is ever as simple or easy as you’d like it to be, and it is hard to please everyone. I admired her bravery and determination to choose her own life. I also loved the family home she creates in the wilds of Donegal – remote enough for her to remain hidden, and a wonderful place for the children to grow up. Daniel’s attachment to it (especially in the scene where he returns after having been away) is wonderful and epitomises the importance of time and place that is evident throughout the novel. He is American, and this isn’t where he came from, but it is most certainly his home. Similarly Claudette has made the place her own home, even though it is far away from her family in Paris. I suppose the point is that you must find your own place in the world, no matter how hard that might be.

This Must Be The Place is a very rich, immersive, and emotionally intelligent novel that will appeal to a lot of different readers. There is great universality here as well as the details of specific lives. I found the characters empathetic and relatable, believable as real people. Maggie O’Farrell has produced another winner, and I would recommend this book very highly.

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Published by Tinder Press, an imprint of Headline, in May 2016. My thanks to the publisher for kindly sending a review copy.

Purchase from Foyles here.

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