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July 19, 2016

Book Notes - Maggie O'Farrell "This Must Be the Place"

This Must Be the Place

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Maggie O'Farrell's novel This Must Be the Place is engrossing and filled with engaging characters.

The Guardian wrote of the book:

"Stylistically, narratively, emotionally, This Must Be the Place is a tour de force, a complex and nuanced story leaping effortlessly across multiple characters, continents and time frames….This Must Be the Place is a rare literary beast: both technically dazzling and deeply moving. It has all the structural and temporal playfulness of a Kate Atkinson novel while retaining the hallmark of emotional intensity for which O’Farrell has become renowned. It is her best novel to date, a book that surely confirms her as one of the UK's most assured, accomplished and inventive storytellers."

In her own words, here is Maggie O'Farrell's Book Notes music playlist for her novel This Must Be the Place:

"Train Song" – Vashti Bunyan

"Train Song" is a delicate thing, just a woman and a guitar. The ethereal voice dips and whispers over the chords, the strumming echoing the relentless pouding of a train. It speaks of longing, of displacement, of unease and uncertainty. Who is the woman and where is she going? Why has she nothing in her head to say to the man? What is it that has wiped her thoughts clean? Where is the man and why are they apart?

I can't write with music playing: I need to cocoon myself in total silence and I often put on a soundtrack of white noise, to blot out any aural distraction. Music is important, however, to transport myself to a place where I can take flight from my ordinary life, to create an opening or a portal to that other world.

I listened to this song, again and again, when I was mulling over the character of Claudette in my novel. She is a former film-star, notorious for having disappeared at the height of her fame. She escapes to rural Ireland, where she holes up in a remote farmhouse. Something about "Train Song's" wistful longing encapsulated Claudette's urge for a different life.

I was well into a third or fourth draft of the book before it struck me one day that I should look for more of Vashti Bunyan's music. When I did, I discovered that Bunyan had herself done a vanishing act. After a disappointing response to her first album, she took off for rural Ireland and then Scotland, and lived quietly for years, unaware that her music was garnering a cult following among contemporary folk musicians.

"Rewrite" - Paul Simon

How many songs are there about a writer working on multiple drafts of a book? I'm going to stick my neck out and say just one: this. Quite apart from its quietly elegiac melody and its constantly u-turning accompaniment, it has lyrics that any writer will immediately relate to. 'I'm going to change the ending,/Going to throw away my title,/and toss it in the trash.' Sound familiar?

"One Horse Town" - The Thrills

If "Train Song" is my Claudette-track, "One Horse Town" is my Daniel-track. Daniel is the American linguistics professor, in Ireland on holiday, who comes across a woman whose car is broken down at the side of the road. He doesn't immediately clock that she is a former film star, now living as a recluse. They fall in love and Daniel transplants his life to her remote Donegal farmhouse.

I love the energy and irreverence of this track – I've always had a soft spot for a jangling, indie guitar riff – and also the lyrics which profess surprise at having settled down 'in a one-horse town'.

When I found myself stuck with Daniel's narrative, which is as complicated as his life, I would put this album on my iPod and go for a speedwalk around the Meadows, a green space in the middle of Edinburgh. Its heady, fast rhythms and lyrics about confusion always released something for me, making me able to go on.

"This Time Tomorrow" -The Kinks

The whistling shriek of an aeroplane, the minor-inflected tangle of the guitar, then Ray Davies' disaffected, longing voice asking, 'This time tomorrow, where will we be?' It's a song about travel, exhaustion, restlessness, dissociation, the unreality of looking down at the world from a plane. My novel has fifteen different locations and my main character, Daniel, flies to and fro across the Atlantic. I had this track on shuffle almost constantly while writing the book.

"Moses" – Elizabeth Fraser

I had all the Cocteau Twins' albums when I was young. Elizabeth Fraser's is a voice that is instantly recognisable; its soaring, celestial soprano tones were the soundtrack to my late-teens. I was over the moon when she released this single, back in 2009, as a memorial to her friend, musician Jake Drake-Brockman. It's haunting, enigmatic, full of incongruities – dub rhythms and East European accordians. No one knows if it's a one-off or a forerunner of a new album. Fraser is keeping quiet on that front but I've my fingers crossed for the latter.

"Hurt Feelings" – Flight of the Conchords

Because everyone needs a laugh at the end of a long day of writing. Because this is my kids' favourite song (I have to always clear my throat loudly over the word 'asshole', which incidentally is here an inspired rhyme for the word 'profiterole'). Because music that is not only good but funny is a rare beast. Because who hasn't, at one time or another, needed a song with a good sing-a-long chorus about having your feelings hurt? Because how can you not love a song that includes someone asking, in a voice that is both plaintive and polite, 'Bring me a small man's wetsuit, please'? Genius.

All together now: I've got hurt feelings, I've got hurt feelings, I've got hurt feelings...

Maggie O'Farrell and This Must Be the Place links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Guardian review
Irish Times review
Kirkus review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Belfast Telegraph profile of the author
Financial Times profile of the author
Independent profile of the author
Irish Examiner profile of the author
Irish Times profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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