Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield
This Must Be The Place is the seventh novel by Maggie O’Farrell. As the tile suggests it is all about finding your place in the world.

Claudette Wells is a film star at the height of her fame. Her partner is a Swedish filmmaker and together they make brilliant films. Claudette partners with him to write and star in his films. In the middle of a film, Claudette decides to flee with her young son Ari. She disappears to escape her own notoriety, telling no one where she is going. She settles in Ireland in a remote home where she becomes a recluse adept at the art of disguise.

When we first meet Claudette she has her young baby in a sling with a gun in her hand she has just fired. Her husband Daniel Sullivan observes his wife, commenting on her tendency for ‘overreaction’.

While Claudette is withdrawing from the world, Daniel too is attempting to find his place. A Brooklyn born linguist he has two children he does not see. His first wife it turns out had been having an affair with a colleague for years. Settling in Ireland with Claudette he takes on the role of stepfather to Ari and fathers two more children with the unpredictable Claudette. Most of the time he can’t quite believe he is married to the Claudette Wells.

The death of his father brings him back to the US where he finds he must face his past. A discovery about a woman he left for dead years ago sets in motion a series of events. As Daniel revisits his youthful days, Claudette drifts further from him.

The need to meet his two estranged children becomes intrinsic to his life. Now his children are 21, his first wife can no longer prevent him from seeing them and after years of separation he arranges a meeting. Daniel’s trip away from Claudette and their children draws out as he rediscovers his past.

Characters flit in and out of O’Farrell’s book. We meet Claudette’s brother and sister-in-law and her mother Pascaline. The family is fiercely protective of Claudette’s identity and helps her to hide from her former self.

This Must Be The Place examines identity and connection to a place and time through the portrait of an unconventional marriage. Beautifully told, it is a breathtaking novel from a master of her art.You can buy the book here in Australia and here in the UK.

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