Books: The Maggie O’Farrell Marathon

maggie o'farrell novels review

I’ve just finished reading the Maggie O’Farrell novel After You’d Gone, which completes my epic O’Farrell reading marathon. I’ve read all of her novels, now – five of them in the last couple of months – and I can safely declare her to be one of my favourite writers. I just think she’s absolutely brilliant. I’m only sad that I must now wait impatiently until she writes another book – she joins the likes of Hilary Mantel, CJ Sansom and Robert Galbraith on my (rather random and eclectic) list of “authors who need to hurry up and satisfy my book cravings”.

So yes, I’ve worked my way through the complete O’Farrell bibliography, and not in any particular order. I think that the first I read was Instructions for a Heatwave, followed by The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, and I’ve just finished her debut – After You’d Gone – via her latest, This Must Be The Place, with the rest of them in close succession.

All of them excellent, though for me her standout novels are her latest three (which is pleasing – I like to think that this means she’s yet to reach her literary peak!) and the weakest, or perhaps I should say the one I liked least, was My Lover’s Lover, which was her second novel and didn’t seem to hold the same magic for me as the others.

If you’re new to Maggie O’Farrell, then you’re in for a treat. She’s a total genius at making you fall in love with characters – she portrays them so intensely and in such minute detail that they almost become a part of your life. You think about them even when you’re not in “reading mode”, which I always think is a good sign that you’ve been successfully drawn in to the imaginary world.

O’Farrell’s trademark, I’d say, is to sort of plonk a character in front of you, mid-situation, and then throughout the course of the novel reveal everything there is to know about them, pulling in their entire backstory and any characters who are close to them so that you end up completely involved and emotionally invested in their fictional life. So it’s intense, but she’s not one of those wordy-wordy writers who take three pages to describe how a character holds their coffee cup: her style is actually quite economical and to-the-point, the language she uses is beautiful and poignant and never unnecessarily flowery.

Most of her novels have the added intrigue of jumping from one character to another, back and forth from story to story and at first it seems that the characters and their worlds are completely unrelated. But more often than not, the characters’ stories are in some way linked or intertwined, and these links become clear as the stories progress. Dark secrets are revealed, mysteries are solved, apparently insignificant characters become key players…

And she dashes backwards and forwards through time, so that not only are you swinging from character to character (often across wide geographical plains!) you’re dealing with generational jumps too. The plots themselves are never really action-led, all of the excitement happens in the way that O’Farrell chops up the stories and puts them back together again. They are dense with emotion and stay with you long after you’ve closed the book on the last page. I cried for quite a while during and after reading The Hand That First Held Mine (though I was only three days in with New Baby and rather emotional!) and I’m still thinking about the characters in This Must Be The Place whole months after finishing.

You can find all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books on her Amazon page here – if you’re at a loss as to which novel to start with, I’d say go for either the very latest (This Must Be The Place, HERE) or The Hand That First Held Mine, HERE. I realise I haven’t described what any of the novels are about, but you can read the blurbs on Amazon should you want to – I simply needed to get my Maggie O’Farrell reading obsession off my chest!

Maggie O’Farrell

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  1. Lorraine Jambor
    May 3, 2017 / 8:04 am

    Hi Ruth. I love reading your book recommendations but perhaps you could link to Waterstones or local bookshops – we really want to keep these open and nothing beats browsing a table of new books!

  2. Samantha Ellis
    May 3, 2017 / 10:05 am

    I’m so glad you’ve featured Maggie O’Farrell – I love her and recently started working through all of her novels, too. I’ve had to take a break after The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox as I found it to be so emotional (though the present love story didn’t quite sit right for me, but hey, you can’t win them all!) but I’m sure I will be resuming over the summer!

    If you could review / recommend some ‘light hearted’ books I would be very grateful – I struggle to find anything that’s funny but also intelligently written.

  3. May 3, 2017 / 12:28 pm

    Seems my reading for the summer months is sorted, these books sound like my kind of read.

  4. Lulu
    May 3, 2017 / 12:58 pm

    I so agree – she’s brilliant. I’ve been saving ‘This Must be The Place’ to savour on my forthcoming holiday. I’m glad to read your positive recommendation!

  5. Catherine
    May 3, 2017 / 1:45 pm

    Thanks Ruth good recommendation. Like you I absolutely love Robert Galbraith, CJ Samson and Hilary Mantel so I guess Maggie O’Farrell must be next for me. We obviously have very similar tastes in books. I have recently read 2 Kate Atkinson books and she is also brilliant.

  6. Zhenya
    May 3, 2017 / 1:50 pm

    Hi Ruth! It’s lovely to see you including so many book recommendations/reviews!
    I have been reading a lot lately (I had a self imposed post literature MA hiatus) and wanted to share some books I think you might like. Apologies if you’ve read some before.
    The Secret History by Donna Tarrt is a beautiful fusion of a page-turning thriller and teenage misbehaviour gone wrong; truly ‘can’t put it down’ reading.
    If you’re after a series, there’s Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels (four in total) about two friends living in a poverty stricken part of Naples in the 60’s and tracing their lives and experiences, the casual violence that defines their lives and, inevitably, how gender determines one’s future.
    Final recommendation is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – set in Lagos – following a young teenage couple, political/social changes in Lagos and its effects on citizens plus it provides a fantastic look at contemporary race relations in US/UK/Nigeria.

    • Katy
      May 4, 2017 / 7:12 am

      I can remember Ruth reviewing Americanah somewhere on the site and loving it! :)

  7. Ellen
    May 4, 2017 / 6:04 am

    I always love your bookposts. We have rather similar taste in books so anything you recommend goes on my To Read List (capital letters because the bloody thing won’t stop growing). So I just wanted to say thank you since I don’t normally comment.

  8. Rose
    May 4, 2017 / 12:51 pm

    Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors too and I have also read them all. ‘After you’d gone’ is one of my favourite ever books and one of the few books to make me cry. She just has a knack for writing about relationships in such an honest and real way. I can’t wait for her next one. ‘My Lover’s Lover’ was also my least favourite, but her latest ‘This must be the place’ was really good.
    I always love all of your book recommendations Ruth – have you read Tana French’s books? Her first two, ‘In the Woods’ and ‘The Likeness’ but also ‘The Secret Place’ are all great. I’m reading ‘Secret Harbour’ at the moment and it’s amazing. Also Kate Atkinson’s books I love too.

    • May 5, 2017 / 10:40 pm

      I shall add Tana French to the list! x

  9. Tina
    May 6, 2017 / 3:42 am

    I love your book recommendations. I recently finished reading “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris and I loved it so much that I didn’t want it to end. Some of the stories he told made me laugh out loud and that’s always a good thing.

  10. Helena
    May 12, 2017 / 11:32 am

    Since I LOVED all your book recommendations – which one by Hilary Martel would you recommend?

    • May 13, 2017 / 8:29 pm

      Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies xx

  11. bella
    May 21, 2017 / 3:31 pm

    Hi Ruth,

    After reading this post, I went straight to the library and downloaded This must be the place. I read it a breakneck speed and loved it! Thank you and now off to read all of her novels.

  12. Mansi
    May 26, 2017 / 12:09 pm

    J K Rowling/ Robert Galbraith is the only author I’ve read, but you’ve sold me on Maggie O’Farrell- definitely checking out others you mentioned as well. x

  13. Shradha Shah
    May 24, 2018 / 1:49 pm

    Hi Ruth,

    I love your recommendations for reading. Please can you do these posts more often?
    Also do you have a goodreads account I can follow to see what you are reading and what your opinion on those books are?
    This way I can easily follow your book recommendations.
    Hope you dont mind.

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