This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is one of those authors who I always keep meaning to get around to reading. Instructions for a Heatwave was one of the biggest sellers in 2013 and I always intended to read it, but it didn’t ever find it’s way onto my reading pile.

 

Still, I knew a lot of people had read it, and the book had received critical acclaim, so when I heard of a new novel – This Must Be The Place­ – I was bizarrely excited to read it, despite having never read O’Farrell before.

 

This Must Be The Place tells the story of Daniel and Claudette who, at the beginning of the novel are a married couple living in a remote house in Donegal. Daniel is due to head back to America to see his family, but hears something on the radio on the way which sends him digging back into his past. The ramifications of the secret he’s hiding have a massive impact on his marriage and his family.

 

The story is told in the non-linear structure that most books seem to favour these days – on a side note, there must be a better way of putting that, terms like ‘time slip’ and ‘time jump’ always imply time travel to me. Google seems to suggest anachronistic, so I’m going with that.

 

The story is told anachronistically, a form that most books seems to favour these days and we learn of both Daniel and Claudette’s lives, before and after they met.

 

O’Farrell uses this structure to good effect to help us colour in their lives, and the supporting characters, particularly their children, seem vivid and real, however there are events with them that get avoided or brushed over in order to focus on the deconstruction of their marriage, despite some of these events being the driving force in Daniel’s behaviour.

 

The actual breakdown of the marriage happens off screen, we don’t really get to witness it, which feels bizarre, and in fact, there are many elements which we don’t see. Much of this book feels like we’re seeing the bits that are happening in between the big events.

 

It’s a bit like reading lots of reviews of a book, but never actually reading the book itself (ironic really, considering my opening paragraph about Instructions For A Heatwave) and because of that, it feels a little difficult to connect with the characters, Claudette especially.

 

For the vast majority of the book, the characters are not physically together, and we only have Claudette’s point of view in the past, we never really get her take on what’s happened, which is a shame.

 

The anachronistic chapters and characters all seem to be heading one way, towards one inevitable conclusion, and once again we don’t get to see it, it just gets hinted at.

 

All that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it – I only ever deconstruct books in this much detail when I do enjoy them – because in fact, I did really like it. O’Farrell’s choice to talk around all the important events gives us the opportunity to understand the character’s a little more than we would if the same number of pages were used to describe their arguments, or the big events in the heat of the moment.

 

Sometimes, though, it’s just a little jarring re-entering Daniel’s life and not knowing in what condition we’re going to find him.

 

I’ve given This Must Be The Place 3.8 out of 5. I think if just a little bit more had been done to engage us with Claudette, then it would have bumped it up over 4.

 

Maybe now I should finally get round to reading Instructions For A Heatwave?

Accidental Resolutions

I’ve spent the last six months or so reading a shit load of books. And with it, I’ve been writing reviews of them. One review a week, written as much for me as they were for anyone else.

 

But, in case anyone was interested, I published them on my blog – this blog – and I did all the correct social media stuff. I had a brand, a regular time, I tagged the authors, the publishers, the publicists and made as many references to pop culture (Justin Bieber, One Direction, etc) to try and boost the number of page hits.

 

It sort of worked, page views and visitors increased every month from July through to December, and while some of the numbers came from people directly clinking on the links I put on Twitter, I was starting to see a lot of traffic from search engines.

 

I can’t see what the search term was when people come through from Google (and perhaps unsurprisingly, that seems to be the search engine most people use), but I can from other search engines. So I plugged in some of the terms myself.

 

  • The one that came up most was Jude St Francis – the main character of A Little Life (my favourite book of the year, and incidentally the post that had the most views across the year).

 

A Little Life was one of the big hits of 2015, one of the most talked about books of the year, so I was surprised to find that my post about it was getting traffic. Surely there must be a million posts out there just like mine?

 

When I typed Jude St Francis into Google – a link to my blog was the first result. Now a month or two later, it’s the second link. This was a huge surprise, I’m not sure how it happened, but it did.

 

Moving by Jenny Eclair is fast proving to be my second most popular post, and when I put that into Google, I discovered mine was the fifteenth link.

 

I’m not sure what I’m doing, but it seems to be working.

 

Last week, I was looking at my ‘Yearly Stats’ on WordPress and discovered I was only sixty views away from hitting two thousand for the year. I was excited to see how close I would come and so re-posted a few links.

 

I nearly made it. I was fifteen views short. One extra day would have done it.

 

And then I stopped to think. Two thousand views in a year, and I only started regularly posting in July. A little bit of quick maths tells me that I could hit four thousand views a year – or more – if I posted regularly.

 

Whether that’s an audience of one, reading things four thousand times, or four thousand individual people, I don’t know, but that’s a big number,. And some of them, I know, are reading more than one page at a time.

People are choosing to read what I write – and some of them, likely, even if it’s just that one maniac, are coming back to read more.

 

I’d considered self-publishing before, but it’s never really appealed to me, even in this world of self-made internet billionaires like EL James. I never thought I would have the energy or the presence to be able to sell an ebook online.

 

But a few things occurred to me last week:

  1. I have an established audience (even if it’s only one stalker)
  2. I write because I like to write, not because I want to make money (although if anyone offered me some, that would be great)
  3. I write well to deadlines.

 

And so I decided two things:

  1. I would publish my already written novel Memories of a Murder on my blog
  2. By the end of 2016, I would write the second novel, already largely planned – a sequel to Memories of a Murder.

 

The first part of Memories of a Murder will be published next week… just as soon as I’ve blown the cobwebs off of it.

The One In A Million Boy by Monica Wood

The One in a Million Boy is dead.

This book is not about him, it’s about the people he left behind, the empty space he left in people’s lives, and how they struggle to move and change to fill the void where he used to be.

This book is about Belle, his grieving mother.

It’s about Quinn, his estranged father.

And it’s about Ona Vitkus, the one hundred and four year old woman who the boy was helping out at the weekends immediately prior to his death.

There’s a technique in art – or at least, I think there is, not being an artist, I only know what I know through secondary sources – where instead of painting or drawing the object you focus on the negative space around the object.

The negative space technique is used a lot in optical illusions, noticeably in Rubin’s vase (ok, I’ve googled a bit here), where if the space around the vase is concentrated on, the image actually becomes a picture, not of a vase, but two profiles in silhouette staring at each other.

That’s what happens here. Instead of a story about the boy, this is a story about the negative space he left behind.

By the characters talking about it, the impact it’s had on themselves, we get a picture of them instead.

The book is quite twee in places, there are no shocking twists, everything skips along at a merry pace, and there are no major traumas – even the death of the little boy doesn’t cause major upset to the reader, because it’s hard to care about him.

The negative space technique distances him from the reader. We never know his name and a large part of when he is around are the transcripts of his interviews with Ona, in which he is silent, so that they just read as a list of responses to imagined questions.

What should be the emotional heart of this book, the untimely death of a young boy, doesn’t ever quite land. And I think that’s probably intentional.

It’s a nice book, a romp, and the characters are quite lovely, so that the end of the book, which just hints at what was to come, raises a smile. It’s a gentle, inoffensive story, which is at times funny and distracts from the real world.

I’m finding it difficult to convey my thoughts on this book, and fear I’m coming across negative.

It’s a bit like a bowl of Angel Delight. It’s tasty, it’s fun, but it’s not that substantial and it won’t fill you up.