Maggie O'Farrell was heralded as a major new writer with her debut novel, After You'd Gone
. And here she is with My Lover's Lover
, demonstrating again her extraordinary talent. The coda to the novel's final part is Evelyn Waugh's "To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom". It's the choices and chances, the compromises and delusions, made in the search for love that preoccupy O'Farrell's central characters. The setting is 30-something London, New York, and rural China. Lily and Marcus meet at a gallery opening; almost the day after, they're sharing his chic loft, and soon after that, his bed. But if this sounds like chick-lit, any similarities end here. Narrated in four parts, O'Farrell moves adeptly from third to first person, from present to past to future.
Through Lily's account in the first section, a claustrophobic fear pulsates: she is haunted by Marcus's previous lover, Sinead, who seems to be everywhere--"The flat seems sticky with Sinead's fingerprints. [Lily] doesn't know what to do." But according to Marcus, Sinead "is no longer with us". On every page, O'Farrell's transcription of the body as register of the emotions, of fear and desire, is breathtaking. Language dissects and insinuates; revelations unfurl and double back. Sinead's incredulity at Marcus's being "not exactly faithful" and Marcus's old friend Aidan's consternation at his own secret longings are described with such tactility, such spare suggestiveness that these lovers' tales take on a brooding, yet haphazard quality. O'Farrell is an insightful and passionate chronicler of human emotions. It's compulsive and thrilling stuff. --Ruth Petrie
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From Publishers Weekly
British writer O'Farrell turns a deceptively simple romantic novel into an engrossing story of psychological suspense. Lily, a young Londoner, meets Marcus, an architect, at an art opening, and they fall for each other. Within a week, she's moved into his loft, which he also shares with Aidan, a film animator. Lily takes over a room once occupied by Marcus's ex-girlfriend, Sinead. Marcus says very little about Sinead, except that "she's no longer... with us," causing Lily to wonder if perhaps she's dead. As Lily and Marcus become more deeply involved, Lily becomes obsessed with Sinead's fate and thinks she sees her everywhere; especially disconcerting are Sinead's spectral appearances while Lily and Marcus are making love. Then one day, Lily stumbles across the real Sinead and attempts to question her about her relationship with Marcus. Sinead flees, but Lily tracks her down; she finds that Sinead is a lecturer in English literature, and finally gets her to tell why she broke up with Marcus. Sinead's story makes up the second part of the book, chronicling the onset and passionate height of their five-year affair and her discovery that he was an inveterate philanderer. Lily realizes that her relationship with Marcus has been unhealthy; now it's her turn to flee. In the book's final major section, Aidan falls in love with Sinead and a strange turn of events finds three of the characters in Australia. O'Farrell's premise-a woman's curiosity about her lover's former relationship-is somewhat commonplace. What makes her novel distinctive is the supernatural element, which she manages well, suggesting that Lily's subconscious will save her in the end. O'Farrell's debut, After You'd Gone, won a Betty Trask Award.
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