This is my first Maggie O’Farrell novel but it won’t be my last. Thank you, Gransnet, for introducing me to her work. Right from the introduction, I was hooked: "There is a man..........There is a man and the man is me." What a great way to start a novel: so simple, yet so precise.
For those who like their stories delivered in linear fashion, the structure of the novel may be off putting, as some have already commented. So many characters, so many countries, so many time zones. The first chapter is set in Donegal, 2010, the next in London, 1989, later Brooklyn, 1944. The characterisations are excellent. Daniel certainly has his faults but he remains a sympathetic figure for the most part. Claudette is a little more elusive perhaps, although never less than fascinating. There is a wide cast of supporting characters who are all memorable and convincingly drawn. I did start to feel as if I should be taking notes. I would just get used to one character and then the next chapter would be from another character’s point of view but as the story built I went with it and found that for me it worked, incredibly well.
To Maggie, my thanks for a good read
I have two questions:
1.Did your toddler’s destruction of your post its have any impact on the final structure of the novel?
2.Why introduce the incidental character of Rosalind so late in the day? I read her as a sort of soothsayer, whose only task is to tell Daniel some home truths and provide a clear and impartial view. If that is the case, why the need for the detailed backstory?
1. Perhaps. The structure was already formed in my head. I think the need to rejustify and rearrange and remember all the structural decisions, after my daughter's input, made the novel stronger. It's not often you have to go back to basics at that point. Maybe I should let her loose on my plans every time.
2. I wrote an dissertation once about the roles of incidental figures in Medieval and Middle English literature. The knights would be off on their quest, focussed on whatever it was they thought they were seeking, and then a hermit or a maiden or a dwarf would appear, almost from nowhere, and whatever they said or did would direct the path of the knight, often to a place he had not expected. I've always been interested in the people we meet, perhaps only briefly, who unwittingly shape our lives. What's significant for me about Daniel and Rosalind's intersection is that neither of them know the extent or details of each other's sadness but that they both sense it. They both, in a way, help each other carry on. They will, of course,
never meet again but they have made an enormous difference to each other';s lives. I always felt that the Arthurian maidens and hermits deserved their own stories so Rosalind gets hers.