O’Farrell’s talent as an author lies in her ability to weave together the points-of-view of multiple characters into one seamless and captivating story. The centerpiece of the book is the marriage of Daniel and Claudette but we view their histories and their paths toward each other through different people in their lives including ex-spouses, children, and employees.
The first person we encounter in the book is Daniel himself who is about to embark on a journey from his home in rural Donegal, Ireland to visit his family in Brooklyn, New York. It is his estranged father’s ninetieth birthday and Daniel is making the trip back home in an attempt to reconnect with his family. While Daniel is on his way to the United States memories of his past come flooding back and he decides that he wants to also reach out to his children, Niall and Phoebe from a previous marriage. The storyline moves back and forth between the present and the past; as he is travelling to the United States, where he hasn’t been in ten years, it is natural for Daniel to think of the two children whom he was forced to give up.
Daniel is a linguistics professor and while he spent time teaching at Berkeley he met his first wife. Their marriage had a bitter ending and his vengeful ex-wife wins custody of their two young children and refuses to allow Daniel to see them. One of my favorite parts of the book is Daniel’s reunion with Niall and Phoebe in a coffee shop in California where he explains to them that he never stopped trying to have a relationship with them. He wrote them hundreds of letters over the years, all of which their mother intercepted. This meeting is the beginning of a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with his oldest children.
Daniel’s next stop on his making amends tour is to Brooklyn where he has vivid and heartbreaking memories of his mother. She never seemed happy in her marriage and she was the only person in the family to have any real affection for Daniel. O’Farrell weaves into the narrative the life and struggles of Daniel’s mother and how his relationship with her has had a profound effect on his current life.
While Daniel is in Brooklyn, he decides to make one last stop in London before he finally goes home to Ireland. He learns that an ex-girlfriend from his college days died shortly after they broke up and Daniel feels responsible for her death. But while Daniel is on his making amends tour, his wife feels neglected and left out. It is ironic that Daniel’s making amends tour marks the beginning of trouble and estrangement for Daniel and Claudette.
Claudette is one of the most interesting characters in the book because she is quirky and unpredictable. The beginnings of her career as a world-famous actress are told in great detail from various points-of-view. While living in California with her long-time boyfriend and her five-year-old son, Ari, she decides that she just can’t take the attention and fame of being an actress any longer so she decides to disappear. Claudette ends up in a remote, old farmhouse in Donegal Ireland where she just so happens to run into Daniel. Their accidental meeting is a great example of O’Farrell’s deft ability to weave the lives of characters together with an amusing and heartwarming storyline.
The last part of the book focuses on Daniel and Claudette’s struggling marriage. By all accounts Daniel should be happy with Claudette, their two children and his career as a linguist. But his making amends tour appears to have had a negative effect on his mental stability and he begins to ignore what should be his greatest priorities. We are left wondering whether or not Daniel will be able to make amends one final time with Claudette. The place in the world where he seems happiest and where his life is the most complete is at that old farmhouse in Donegal. Will Daniel ever be able to make his way back to this life?
This is my first Maggie O’Farrell book and I am eager to explore her other titles. I am wondering if all of her books have such strong and interesting characters. Two of my favorite characters in this book are Daniel’s sons, Ari and Niall, and I think she could get two more books out of them alone.
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