Maggie O’Farrell

LifeWorksCommentaryReferencesNotes

Life
1972- ; b. Coleraine, N. Ireland [var. Derry]; brought up in Scotland and Wales; settled in London; issued After You’ve Gone (2000, winner of Betty Trask Award (£5,000) followed by My Lover’s Lover (2002), and The Hand that First Held Mine (2010), winner of the Costa Prize; she has worked at the Poetry Society and at the Independent on Sunday, where she was Deputy Literary Editor;
 
selected by the London Independent as one of the 20 most promising authors; her writing is noted for sensuality, passion and emotional acuteness often dealing with difficult memories involving transgressive relationships with children, and sometimes considered mawkish and sentimental by serious reviewers; she lives in London with her husband [var. partner] and their two children.

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Works
Novels
  • After You’ve Gone (London; NY: Viking 2001, rep. London 2006), 372pp.;
  • The Distance Between Us (London: Review 2005), 373pp.;
  • My Lover’s Lover (London: Review 2002, 2003), 322pp;
  • The Vanishing act of Esme Lennox (London: Headline Review 2006), 277pp., and Do. (Long Preston: Magna Large Print Books 2007), 316pp.;
  • The Hand that First Held Mine (London: Review 2010), 341pp.;
  • This Must be the Place (2016).

[See plot summaries in Notes, infra.]

See also ‘Truth will Out’, in “Finishing Lines” [column], Irish Times Magazine (8 June 2002), p.66.

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Criticism
Reviews Incl. Maud Casey, "Beside Manners", review of After You'd Gone, in New York Times (22 April 2001) - available online.

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Quotations

After You'd Gone (NY: Viking 2000) - Chapter One [extract]

The only bit Alice can see of her father is the soles of his shoes. They are a faded brown, striated with the grit and terrain of the pavements he has walked. She is allowed to run along the pavement outside their house to meet him coming home from work in the evening. In the summertime she sometimes runs in her nightie, its pale folds catching around her knees. But now it’s winter - November, maybe. The soles of the shoes are curved around the branch of a tree at the bottom of their garden. She tips back her head as far as it will go. The foliage rustles and thrashes. Her father’s voice swears. She feels a shout welling like tears in her throat, then the coarse orange rope lowers itself, slightly coiled like a cobra from the branches.
 “Got it?”
 She seizes the rope’s waxed head in her mittened hand. “Yes.”
 The branches shake as her father swings down. He lays a hand briefly on Alice’s shoulder then bends to pick up the tyre. She is fascinated by the meandering rivulets that wander through its tread and the weft underneath its heavy black rubber. “That’s what holds it together,’ the man at the shop had told her. The sudden scraped bald patch in the middle of the meanders makes her shudder but she doesn’t quite know why. Her father winds the orange rope around the tyre and makes a thick, twisted knot.
 “Can I have a go now?’ Her hands grip the tyre.
 “No. I have to test it with my weight first.”
 Alice watches as her father jounces on the tyre, testing to see if it is safe enough for her. She looks up to see the branch shake in sympathy and looks quickly back at her father. What if he were to fall? But he is getting off and lifting her on, her bones as small, white and bendable as birds’.

[...]

Available at The New York Times > Books > First chapters - online; accessed 23.03.2013; see further in separate window - as attached.

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Maggie O’Farrell on Jane Eyre

Like many people, I first read Jane Eyre in my early teens, in the first flush of excitement at swapping my children’s library card for an adult one. The back cover promised a thrilling love story between a poor, plain girl and a brooding, troubled landowner. Later that night, I found myself wrong-footed. What, I wondered, was this neglect and abuse of an orphan child? Whose was this frank, unwavering voice? By the time Jane was locked by her heartless aunt into the terrifying red room, I had forgotten all about the promised love story. I pressed on, late into the night, straight into Lowood and the deprivations at the hands of religious fanatics.

I had, in short, never read anything like it. The shock and thrill of discovering this book, aged 13, continues to run in my veins. I read it without a single preconception; I knew nothing about it. I was as unprepared as those first Victorian readers for Rochester, for the fire, for the stalled marriage, for the lunatic locked away in the attic.

If Jane Eyre taught me anything as an astonished 13-year-old, it was to strive, to push my reach beyond my grasp, not to settle for compromise. When we studied the book at university, Brontë’s words were filtered for me through various frameworks of academic theory. Jane Eyre is a feminist novel, I was told. Or it is the link between the epistolary and the gothic novel. It is the precursor to all stream-of-consciousness writing. It is a psychological tract about doubles and doppelgangers, addressing levels of human consciousness. It is all these things and yet none of them. One of the reasons Jane Eyre continues to provoke so much discussion and theorising is that, like Jane herself, it eludes definition. It does one thing with its right hand while doing quite another with its left.

Thirty years on, I still haven’t read anything like it. Jane Eyre remains the book I return to the most. I read it every couple of years. Parts I know off by heart, yet each time I come away with something different. It is my datum, my pole star, the novel by which all others shall be measured.

In The Guardian (16 April 2016) - online.

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Commentary
Noonie Minogue, reviewing of My Lover’s Lover, in Times Literary Supplement (29 March 2002), writes: ‘The ghost of Sinead is a mournful terrifying gorgon. Lily has a vision of her tragic fall from the bedroom window. […] Maggie O’Farrell explores with great panache the gothic-horror potential of relationships, the haunting severed limbs of love. She exploits skilfully, and with every appearance of being in earnest, the devices of the supernatural thriller. But a narrative of such pace and build-up, hinting at the darkest areas of human experience, needs real infamy or trauma to sustain it. If the iniquities one guesses at the beginning turn out to be, after all, no more than a laundry list […] it would be churlish to deny the fun of the ride.’ (p.23.)

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Notes
After You’ve Gone (2000): Classic love-story, tender and tragic, concerning Alice Raikes, a distraught young woman who boards a train at King’s Cross to return to her family in Scotland and catches sight of something so terrible in a mirror at Waverley Station six hours later that she takes the next train back to London. The novel takes the form of a mental journey through her own past after a traffic accident in a seeming suicide attempt which leaves her in a coma. Slowly drawing the reader into a family’s dark secret, it tells a love story involving the long absence of her father-in-law and the lives of three generations of Raikes women whose choices reverberate through the generations juggling half-a-dozen viewpoints. (See COPAC summary online; accessed 11.01.2011.)

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The Distance Between Us (2005): Stella catches sight of a man she hasn’t seen for many years but instantly recognises on a cold February afternoon - or thinks she does. At the same moment on the other side of the globe, in the middle of a crowd of Chinese New Year revellers, Jake realises that things are becoming dangerous. They know nothing of one another’s existence, but both Stella and Jake flee their lives: Jake in search of a place so remote it doesn’t appear on any map, and Stella for a destination in Scotland, the significance of which only her sister, Nina, will understand. (See COPAC online; accessed 11.01.2011.)

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My Lover’s Lover (2002): A tale of betrayal involving a group of flatmates and lovers in a keenly-observed portrayal of shifting metropolitan lives centred on Lily, a professional translator, who moves into architect Marcus’s flat and plunges headlong into a relationship only to find she must contend not merely with the disapproval of flatmate Aidan but with a more intangible, hostile presence of a ghost. Could it be that Sinead, Marcus’s ex Sinead - who is ‘is no longer with us’, according to Marcus - , is trying to communicate with her? When Lily begins to ‘see’ Sinead first about the flat and then on the streets of London she begans to stalk her, only to find she is alive and well and teaching at a London university, and has things to say about Marcus which cause Lily to wonder whether the man she loves is someone she can, or indeed ought to live with at all. (See COPAC online; accessed 11.01.2011.)

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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (London: Review 2007): Esme was a woman edited out of her family’s history, and when, sixty years later, she is released from care, a young woman, Iris, discovers the great aunt she never knew she had. The mystery that unfolds is the heartbreaking tale of two sisters in colonial India and 1930s Edinburgh , of the loneliness that binds them together and the rivalries that drive them apart and lead one of them to a shocking betrayal; but above all it is the story of Esme, a fiercely intelligent, unconventional young woman, and of the terrible price she is made to pay for her family’s unhappiness. (See COPAC online; accessed 11.01.2011.)

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The Hand that First Held Mine (2010): A story of love and motherhood in which the bohemian, sophisticated Innes Kent turns up by chance on her doorstep of Lexie Sinclair, who realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London where she carves out a new life for herself with Innes at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene. In the present day, Elina - a painter - Elina struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with artistic vocation while her partner Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood that don’t tally with his parents’ version of events. As he begins to search for answers an extraordinary portrait of two women separated by fifty years but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected is revealed. (See COPAC online; accessed 11.01.2011.)

This Must Be the Place (2016): Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life, is a New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland with children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex-film star given to shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway. He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back? (See Goodreads online; accessed 30.10.2016.)

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Ubi toi? ‘[...] What has she said about her nationality? Is she from Ireland (where she was born), Scotland (where she moved when very young), or Wales (where she spent much of her youth) or Britain (she now lives in England)? “All of them and none”, she told the London Independent last year. “As I get older people tell me I look Irish [but] Scotland’s where I feel at home. We were living there for three years but came back to London recently for a variety of reasons. My husband had to drag me kicking and screaming.” (See Irish Times, 8 Jan. 1011, Arts Review, p.9.)

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Married partner? See brief notice of Costa award in Coleraine Times (12 Jan. 2011) which associates her with Coleraine and connects her with a partner [sic] and two children, living in Edinburgh. (p.4). According to this source, The Hand that First Held Mine (2010) weaves together the stories of two women separated by 50 years who grapple with love and motherhood.

Costa: The Costa award is given for enjoyable, well-written books by UK or Irish authors

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