Retro: This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Article published on April 1, 2016.

You will be horrified by what I’ve done to this book: I’ve cut it up. And before you write to complain of this sacrilege, let me say I had finished it and it was ‘only’ a proof copy.

So why did I do it? Well, this is Ms O’Farrell’s seventh title and it is extremely ambitious, perhaps even her masterpiece. It is a big book in all senses: nearly 500 pages – a good hundred pages more than her previous longest. Not that size is a pre-requisite of quality in a book [or anything else!] but it does venture across continents and time zones without thought to the cost of air fares. But that still doesn’t explain my actions, does it?

I call it ‘word processor sequencing’ – authors have always juggled their narratives to create tension or reveal their plots. However, many of the books I’ve read in the last 20 years seem to have had a linear narrative deliberately disrupted – simply because, with a computer, it is easy to do. Now I have no way of proving whether Ms O’Farrell approached her story this way, or any other author come to that. What I’m railing against is the experience for the reader – particularly a simple soul like me – who can see there is an unfolding of events in a synchronous way and wonders how it would have read if it had been presented in that way.

So, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed This Must be the Place twice, all 438 pages of it. First as the author meant it to be read BUT tackling it in chronological order proved just as enjoyable. Obviously, the first reading meant that I knew more of how events would unfold – which, had it been published in my instalment version, may well have confused AN Other reader further.

And my conclusions? Well, obviously the author is entirely at liberty to do what they will but this reader would have appreciated a dramatis personae and perhaps a timeline of some sort. Keeping us guessing is a way of keeping us engaged but I have to admit there were times when I nearly didn’t pick it back up.

Guy Pringle
10th Feb, 2016

This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Tinder Press hbk 17 May 2016 978-0755358809

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Retro: This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

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