Saturday, November 8, 2014

An Ex-Lover Ghost Story?

My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O'Farrell


Sinead is – according to Marcus – “no longer with us.” That means that the room Sinead had in Marcus’ flat is now vacant, and Lily moves in. The question is, what else does all that mean – to both Lily and her budding feelings for Marcus?

If Maggie O'Farrell's second novel "My Lover's Lover" is supposed to be her weakest work, then perhaps anyone interested in her work should start with this one, since it is far from weak in my eyes. This is the story of three people - Lily, Marcus and Sinead. After a chance meeting at a party, Lily impulsively moves out of her mother's home into Marcus' extra room after he mentions he's looking for another flat mate. This is because - as Marcus regretfully puts it - Sinead is "no longer with us". But as Lily becomes more involved with Marcus, sinister things begin to happen around the flat, and the other roommate - Marcus' best friend Aiden - is equally as mysterious about Sinead as Marcus.

Told in three sections and mostly in first person from the different characters' perspectives, this tale builds very interestingly. O'Farrell doesn't bog us down with lots of back-story and descriptions. Her style is more documentary in that she starts us at a point in time where she wants us to begin, and then pulls us along through time - mostly chronologically, while dropping subtle hints of the past along the way. However, in one section Sinead tells her story, without recounting the past that fills in the gaps that Lily is unable to discover for herself. In addition, a couple of scenes take place twice - once from one chronological perspective, and then again, in flashback from a different. This also brings new insights into the plot. While mixing past, present, and including duplications may seem confusing, it isn't in the least. 

To be more honest, this story is mostly Lily and Sinead's about their relationships with Marcus, with some injection of Aiden's friendship with him as well. Marcus himself is more like a focal point, around whom all the other characters act and react. Moreover, his erratic behavior is something that the other characters stand in judgment over, even as he feels confused regarding his blame. O'Farrell is almost saying that you can't guide someone without a moral compass in the right direction, because they only see themselves as the injured party. In this, we realize that Marcus is extremely immature, with no cure in sight, making him a true protagonist and ultimately, an unlikeable fellow - which is obviously O'Farrell's intent. 

O'Farrell's prose here is again, straightforward and practically bare boned, yet super-charged with adjectives and adverbs. This gives it a very rich, almost poetic feel to it, without getting flowery or snobbish. This allows the reader to feel what's going on, rather than just read about it, making it seem like we are personally by their sides - if not almost under their skins - as the story unfolds. Yet, there's enough left to the reader's imagination to keep you thinking. This is the brilliance of O'Farrell's style in that she never underestimates her reader's intelligence, and would never compromise herself to make it easier on us. Either you get it or you don't. If you do, there will be no end to the number of times you'll be rewarded with realizations of understanding while reading her novels. Almost like mystery writer without the crime and final "round up" of suspects ending in the big reveal of the criminal. 

This also means that her books don't tie things up into neat packages with pretty bows on top. No, O'Farrell leaves you with the path behind you in sunshine, while the road ahead is barely visible through a shifting fog. O'Farrell leads us to use conjecture as to what will happen after her text is finished, and because we have become so intimate with the main characters, we do care. However, to pique our curiosity further, Maggie gives us a final twist to the story at the very end, making us question some of our initial estimations. 

In all, I find O'Farrell's work to be luscious and intriguing in both language and story. Her characters are vivid and complex, while still very believable. Moreover, O'Farrell is able to evoke strong emotions in the reader, which brings us into the story and enslaves our interest from beginning to end. While this may be ever so slightly weaker than her latest novel, I still can't find much to fault this book, and feel it deserves a full five stars out of five, and I highly recommend it. (By the way, despite the cover, this is not classic "Chick Lit," it is literary fiction at its best!)

"My Lover's Lover" by Maggie O'Farrell, is available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. (This is a revised version of a review that originally appeared on Dooyoo under my username TheChocolateLady, as well as {the now defunct} Yahoo! Voices.)

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