I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, O’Farrell is a good writer – I find myself reading every word and not wanting to skim (the writing is content rich). The book had an interesting composition – the primary action occurs between 2010 – 2016 but the narrative bounces around to dates as far back as 1944, each chapter speaking with a different character’s voice from a time significant to their part of the story. The novel revolves around Daniel, a Brooklyn born linguist, with a history of past relationship troubles that threaten to impact his current happily-ever-after life with Claudette – a beautiful, reclusive, movie star who disappeared herself from the whole movie scene many years before.
The story is told from the perspectives of Daniel and Claudette as well as the children from the current and previous relationships, and their parents, and siblings. Each character is carefully drawn and interesting with their own path through life. The descriptions of various locations – a remote corner of Donegal, various exotic movie shoot locales, New York, California – are detailed and relevant (their home in Donegal has 24 gates between them and the road). The story rambles a bit, as life does, but that is part of the beauty of the narrative – the stories all intersect, bouncing off each other. The impact of one character’s actions is felt by many.
My biggest issue with the novel is that I don’t always find the two main characters completely believable. I don’t believe Daniel as described would have behaved the way he does. I find it interesting that a female author chooses to make her main character a man – this does feel a little like the stereotype of male behavior as seen from a female perspective. But perhaps I just haven’t run into people like this. Daniel’s (to me unbelievable) self destructive actions really irritated me. I have trouble with self destructive behavior of any sort and I don’t enjoy reading about it. However, I did find that I kept thinking about the book long after reading it – always a good sign. My first read of this popular British novelist.