Review of ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is a brilliant writer. She is skilled at describing things in new and surprising ways. This is the third of her books I’ve read (and coincidentally it’s her third novel).

The story follows twenty-somethings Jake and Stella as their separate journeys eventually merge into a confrontation of their own secrets and a possible romance. The narrative switches often between them and also their family members. Flashbacks reveal the central experiences of the characters’ lives. It’s not really about Jake and Stella’s relationship. The focus, increasingly towards the end, is on the tense bond between Stella and her older sister, Nina. I wasn’t expecting this, but as I didn’t like Jake much, it suited me. Nina is a fascinating character, both emotionally and physically damaged, with a reckless streak and a fierce heart. The variety of settings within Scotland, London and Hong Kong are realistically evoked. I was always interested to read on, as I genuinely couldn’t predict what was coming.

My only criticism of the book is that with Jake sliding out of focus somewhat, one of his story arcs is not resolved. I felt that he deserved to have this mystery sorted out. I suppose that O’Farrell is demonstrating how real life is full of loose ends which will never be tied up, but this gave me a dissatisfied feeling about the book when I’d finished it. Overall, however, I was impressed with the writing quality and the complexity of the characters.

If you’re looking for contemporary fiction with raw emotion, realism and a little mystery, then give this book a try.

First published in 2004.

6 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Maggie O’Farrell”

  1. I read After You’d Gone, her first novel last year. I really enjoyed that. I notice you’ve also reviewed I Am, I Am, I Am so I’m going to read your review of that now as I’ve meant to read that book ever since I read an interview with her about her life.

    1. Oh yes, her memoir is a must-read! I have also read This Must be the Place. I have a couple more of her books on my shelf too.

  2. Oooo I love how this book sounds! I might read I am I am first. Or shd I read this first? Which shd be a good intro to her writing, you think?

    1. I would say this book is a good intro to her writing and it has some great descriptions and settings – you could start with this first. Even if you don’t get into her fiction, I’m sure you would like her memoir. I have 2 more of her novels on my tbr shelf.

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