Two strangers, both with troubled personal lives, are thousands of miles apart. The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell is about Stella in London and Jake in Hong Kong and how these two people so far distant, geographically and emotionally, can come together. This novel is basically a romance with two layers of mystery intertwined.
It starts at Chinese New Year when Jake is caught in a horrendous crowd crush with his girlfriend Mel and her friend Lucy. Mel is badly injured, Lucy is dead. When a doctor tells Jake that Mel will not live through the night, he agrees to her wish to marry.
In London, Stella is walking home across Waterloo Bridge when she sees a solitary figure walking towards her, a red-haired man. The sight of him triggers a flight instinct and she flees home to Scotland. Not to her family in Edinburgh and Musselburgh, but to work in a remote country hotel. She avoids the telephone calls from her sister Nina. The truth behind Stella’s panic and the significance of the red-haired man is a long time coming, too long really.
In Hong Kong, Mel survives and Jake travels to the UK with her to stay with her family. Jake thinks this is a visit, planning to return to his job in Hong Kong as a film production assistant. But Mel wants a white wedding. Saying he wants to travel to Scotland to research the identity of his father, he was raised in Hong Kong by his British mother, Jake heads north in search of a village called Kildoune. His mother gave him this surname, named after the father he has never known. Kildoune, it turns out, is not a village but a hotel. The hotel where Stella now works. And so the two storylines come together. As with any romance, the two main characters come together, step away, and dance around each other as Stella’s history is unveiled.
A note about the chapter-less structure. The storyline skips back and forth from viewpoint to viewpoint, present day to past, so quickly I felt dizzy at times. It was confusing for the first third or so of the book and I wished for conventional chapters, after that it remained mildly irritating.
The Distance Between Us is O’Farrell’s third novel but it feels more like an earlier novel, perhaps written before her successful debut After You’d Gone. The storyline of Jake’s hunt for his father is left unfinished; the character development of Nina is thin which makes her behaviour as an adult difficult to understand; and I lost track of the family histories of both Jake and Stella with parents, grandparents and friends making a total of too many characters that don’t contribute to the main narrative.
BUY THE BOOK
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