This book is one that I wouldn’t usually choose for myself, but I picked up based on a glowing review from a fellow Cannonball-er and after reading several positive online reviews as well.
This book opens with a disoriented Alice hopping a train from London to Scotland to visit her family. After her arrival, Alice uses the restroom in the train station and sees something (which is to be revealed later in the book) so horrible she flees the restroom, makes an excuse to her sisters, and hops a train back to London. Within hours, Alice steps off a curb and is hit by a car, in what is possibly a suicide attempt (this is not a spoiler, it’s on the description on the back of the book). The rest of the book switches perspectives, from her family members to Alice herself, and we see snippets of all of their lives and what has brought them all to this point. In particular, this is a story about Alice and her relationship with her mother, Ann, and grandmother (on her father’s side), Elspeth. It is also a love story between Alice, and a newspaper report named John Friedmann.
O’Farrell has a beautiful writing style (that occasionally is meandering) and can vividly paint a picture about a moment, a memory, a feeling. This is where my above disclaimer about this not being my kind of book comes into play. Overall, I would say I didn’t love this book, but I think it’s mostly due to the fact that this is not the kind of story I typically enjoy, not that she hasn’t created a great story. O’Farrell is at her strongest when she’s writing about Alice and John, theirs really is a beautiful story. The other characters I found to be lacking. Ann is a selfish rag (sorry to be vulgar but it’s quite true), and Elspeth is Alice’s biggest supporter, but both women aren’t given enough page time to be given any real depth.
I would say that if you are a fan of family drama, then this is definitely a book that you should pick up. If you’re not, I don’t think this is the book that will change your mind.