the distance between us, by Maggie O'Farrell

Stella, working in London, sees a stranger in the street and the experience triggers a rush of emotions which cause her to walk out on her life and travel to Scotland. At the same time, Jake, in Hong-Kong, is nearly killed in a crush of people celebrating the Chinese New Year. What might be the connection between these two people?

This was a really great read - at least as good as After You'd Gone. As in her other books, there are mini-stories concerning the characters which you feel would have been enough in themselves for a whole book, especially Jake's marriage to Mel, which was at once convincing and awful. And Stella's relationship with her sister Nina was brilliantly done: again the episodes in their lives were so well told that you couldn't help but believe them even though they seemed unlikely.

The feel of the book is still with me now, although I'm half-way through another book (another Nicci French, which is nowhere near as good).

This is the third O'Farrell book I've read, following After You'd Gone and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. And this one has a similar structure to both of those: a disjointed narrative which switches perspective, and jumps back and forth time in order to build a picture of each character's motivations and back-story. This is quite effective, although I suppose one might regard it as a little bit of a cop-out: if you were to re-arrange the paragraphs in the book so that the story was linear, then it wouldn't be such an intriguing read. Did O'Farrell write it in a linear fashion and then just cut/paste paragraphs around in order to build the tension? Well, if that's what she did, then it was done very effectively. Actually, the structure is not that dissimilar to House of Sleep.

It wasn't just the structure of the book that reminded me of House of Sleep; I was also rooting for the characters in the same way, and had (a fairly high degree of) confidence that O'Farrell would make things come out alright in the end for them. I reckon that if it had been a Coe book then I think some more of the loose ends would have been tied - for example, the thread about Jake's father seemed rather to have been dropped, but I don't necessarily think that loose ends are a bad thing.

I fancy reading the other of O'Farrell's novels - My Lover's Lover - although it seems not to have been so well received so maybe I'll leave it a while.

But this one is will definitely be worth a re-read: I tore through it fairly quickly because I had trouble putting it down, and would like to savour it a bit more.

Completed : 03-Jan-2009

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