I was recently lucky enough to see Maggie O’Farrell speak at the Emerald Street Literary Festival as well as meeting her. Although she was speaking about her newer novel, she did refer back to this book, and upon picking it up that afternoon and giving the back page a read – I just had to buy it.
The story is set in two times, the present and the 1930’s and beyond and focus around Iris’s life in the present day and Esme Lennox in the 1930’s – both characters are related to one another without knowing.
The story begins in the present with Iris who is struggling with some love drama and then jumps back to the story of Esme’s childhood and all the dramatic and at times deeply awful things that happen throughout her life through to early adulthood before she is locked in a mental asylum where she has remained for the past 60 years. Another character who is of importance and brings a real point of interest to the story is Kitty, Iris’s grandmother – and Esme’s sister who has never mentioned Esme to any of her remaining family. Iris is contacted when the mental asylum is closing down and a family member is required to take care of Esme.
The novel flits back and forth between the stories with little notice or gap in-between, so you do have to read intently (there was a couple of times I fell asleep and then woke up and had to re-read sections!). As the story progresses you start to build a picture of both characters and their lives, their ups and downs and you soon realise they have more in common than either character may anticipate. One character which was brilliantly written is Kitty, who is suffering badly with Alzheimer’s disease. Maggie writes with her train of thought – which is usually of 3 strains of stories at once mixed up one after the other, leaving you as a reader to piece them together which usually ends in a key story twist or revelation – it is brilliant, really wonderful piece of creative way to write.
Now I won’t give much more of the story away – but what I will mention is there has been some controversy over the ending of this book. It is a classic ‘saying everything but barely saying anything’ situations – so you are left to make your own conclusions about a certain situation. I believe it is very obvious how it ends – and when asking a friend who had recently finished the book came to the same conclusion, but I have read online that many people were left rather perplexed.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was a fantastic story well written and I would recommend it– although it does have its raw, sad moments so maybe not the best one to be classified as a holiday read!
If you have read this book – please share your thoughts on the ending below (without too many spoilers for those who want to pick up the book!)
Until next time x