my lover's lover, by Maggie O'Farrell

Lily falls for Marcus, and moves in with him, but there's still evidence in Marcus' flat of his previous partner Sinead. Marcus is very reluctant to talk about what happened to Sinead, but Lily feels haunted by the ex-lover and is driven to try and discover the truth.

After reading O'Farrell's other three novels in a rush, I'd left off getting this one because I'd picked up the impression, from Amazon reviews, that it was a bit sub-par. But I came across it in a charity shop and thought it would be worth a go anyway. And those Amazon reviewers were completely wrong.

This was easily as good as her other books. I think what stands out for me is her ability to put in seemingly inconsequential details which put you right there. E.g.

Below me was the man who had gatecrashed the party. The one with the blue eyes. Arms outstretched. Duffel coat open to reveal a slippery red lining.
That "slippery red lining" is just so right. And
I'd always thought those Chinese silk paintings were of fanciful, mystical landscapes from the imaginations of some artist. But they actually existed - weird, looming, almost top-heavy, planted into flat, river-threaded plains. Karst topography - the phrase, appearing unbidden in my head, thrown up from some distance geography lesson, surprised me.
I didn't do geography, but I know exactly what she means about a phrase popping into your head like that.

The story itself was perhaps a little strange - there were elements which were not properly explained and perhaps that's what the Amazon reviewers didn't like (I've not yet gone back and re-read what they said) but the whole feel of the book was so convincing that I didn't mind the loose ends.

As in her other novels, the narrative jumps forward and backward in time and switches between the perspectives of different characters quite a lot, but it seems to work. The only criticism I'd have is that the characters of Lily and Sinead are not always that distinctive - e.g. when I was thinking of the "slippery red lining" bit I couldn't remember where in the book it came, because I couldn't remember whether it was from part of Lily's story or Sinead's. But perhaps it's deliberate that the two women are similar. (And in fact, reflecting on them now that I've finished the book, I don't think they are identical - they do feel like different people.)

On the back of the book there are reviews which mention "shock, grief and loss" but while it was quite a moving story, the thing which none of them appears to mention is the humour - at least, I laughed out loud quite a bit in this book: not so much because it was joke-filled, but at the outrageous (but believable) way that Marcus behaved, and attempted to explain away his behaviour. And there was a lovely section where Aiden, Marcus' friend, is trying to assemble a flat-pack bed

He has only to glance at the instruction sheet - large, white, with complex, incomprehensible diagrams of unidentifiable parts - and his mind just melts into a horrible, stultifying mix of boredom and frustration
yes! I know exactly how that feels - pretty much any DIY job I ever do makes me feel like that.

All the way through the book there are snatches of description I'd like to underline and quote; it was such a pleasure to read. A lovely book.

Completed : 09-Oct-2009

[nickoh] [2009 books] [books homepage]