Maggie O’Farrell has form when it comes to disappearing women. People often go missing in her novels. Sometimes these disappearances are self-imposed acts of escape; sometimes, as in the case of her 2006 novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, in which a young woman is imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital for sixty years, other forces are at work.
In her latest novel it’s Claudette Wells, a film star at the height of her fame, who disappears, walking away from her director husband and her career in the middle of a shoot, leading to rumours that she might have drowned. Claudette goes to live a reclusive, secluded existence in a remote part of Ireland with her second husband, Daniel, a Brooklyn-born linguist, and their children. While her act of self-erasure is central to the narrative, it is also part of a far larger study of the intricacies and complexities of family life, of the secrets people carry and the demands people in love can make of each other.
The novel sprawls across decades and flits across continents, from a hotel room in China to the salt flats of Bolivia, from a wedding on the Scottish borders to the waiting room of a dermatology clinic in the US. At its heart the novel, O’Farrell’s seventh, is a portrait of