55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2004
I'd never read any of Maggie O'farrell's books before, although my friends had been telling me to for ages. But I loved this so much I went straight out to buy her others. This is a really copmlex, involving read that you won't be able to put down. It centres on two relationships: the emerging love story between Stella, a scottish-italian girl, and Jake, a British Hong Kong man, and the weirdly close relationship between Stella and her crazy and infuriating sister Nina. There are lots of other smaller parts in the book (which sounds like I'm talking about a film and reading this books is a bit like watching a film - it's so vivid and she cuts between scenes like a movie director) and every one of these people are as real, believable and visible as the main characters. She writes in what seems like a complicated way at first - lots of different people, and moving back and forward in time - but after a while you get completely used to it. It's a great read, a beautiful love story and anyone who has sisters will recognise lots of the emotions/frustrations from here!
Highly, highly recommended.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 2009
Like most other reviewers, I loved Maggie O'Farrell's first novel, After You'd Gone. However, reading this one felt - sad to say - like wading through treacle. For me, the characters and the plot just didn't ring true.
Stella's 'stuckness' in relation to the events of her early life felt unconvincing, as did the details of Nina's illness and their mother's poor awareness of the difficulties the sisters experienced at school. Also, the strength of Jake's undying love after barely getting to know Stella (remember, Stella is someone who plays her cards close to her chest, and Jake is someone who has experienced recent difficulties with intimate relationships) was psychologically unconvincing. And as for the ending....
O'Farrell has clearly put a lot of effort into building her characters, but she hasn't, for me, achieved a great deal of psychological realism in this novel. Stella, Nina and Jake simply never felt real.
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2004
I loved Maggie O Farrell's first book and eagarly awaited her second, which in my opinion sorely disappoints! - did not enjoy it all it, in fact didn't even finish it....
However was willing to give her a second chance and bought her new hardback , which i can say is equally as good if not better than her first book. I am reading it soooo slowly because I don't want it to end !- characters are utterly believable - the relationship between Stella and her sister Nina is fascinating and the storyline keeps you hooked long into the night - Jake's character is also compelling and his quest to find some link with his father - all in all, an excellent read - trust me, you won't be disappointed if you enjoyed her first book, - this is on a similar level.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2009
This is the third novel I have read by Maggie O'Farrell and I find her novels easy reading but nothing spectacular. I enjoyed this more than `My Lover's Lover' and about the same as `After You'd Gone.' `The Distance Between Us' is a love story full of complex relationships and lots of pain.
At the start of the novel the protagonists Stella Gilmore and Jake Kildoune do not even know of the existence of the other. Of course it is obvious to the reader that they will meet eventually. First we are told the two linking stories separately as Stella and Jake move geographically closer together as they desperately try to find themselves and each other amidst the confusion of their complicated lives. Stella finds her London life disturbing her so much that she runs away to Scotland, to somewhere only her sister Nina, to whom she is really close, will understand the significance of. Meanwhile Jake suffers a terrifying experience in Hong Kong which results in him finding himself married and in the UK with an invalid wife that he doesn't love! He runs away in search of the father he never knew, yes in you guessed Scotland. I thought the title was a clever use of words as to me it sums up the void in the intense relationship between Jake and Stella, there was so much they had to discover about each other.
In general if you enjoy a novel with a large cast of characters and can cope with the style of jumping around in time and place then this is worth reading.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2005
After a spellbinding first novel, and a so-so second, Maggie O'Farrell is back on course with this intriguing novel. You are drawn at first into the characters of Jake and Stella and their gradual loosening of life's ties, and then the theme of sisterhood gradually takes prominence - the descriptions of Stella's relationship with her sister is where the writer's skills really lie. I found Stella's character slightly annoying - and there was a slightly Mills & Boon-ish quality to the story - but what remains for me is a story beautifully told. Maggie O'Farrell has a gift for describing memories of childhood, those wierd details one remembers about relatives etc - and the blurring of senses, remembering smells, sights, music etc. A beautifully written, lyrical novel.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2005
When I started reading this novel, I was mesmerised by the main characters, who are utterly convincing and realistic, and very impressed by the amount of careful research that the author has obviously put into her work (the novel introduces scenes and characters from Italy, Wales, London, Scotland and Hong Kong, as well as Italian, Chinese and Welsh phrases). However, I lost interest towards the end - the "dizzying twist" which the Daily Mail speaks of never happened for me; on the contrary, the ending was highly predictable. I found myself speed-reading the last twenty pages because I knew what was going to take place. I also don't understand why the character of Mair was so finely-drawn, only to disappear without trace - I was hoping that she might re-emerge towards the end, elderly and contrite, to tie up the Caroline/family issue.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2005
This was the first O'Farrel book I read - I've since got hold of the others. It's described on the back as a love story but relaly it's much much more. I would say it's main theme was the relationship between sisters. And what a relationship the two sister main characters have: Complex, overly close, secretive. Stella and Nina are beautifully drawn and completely believable. The love story itself, which doesn't really start until halfway through, is great as well. But, for me, this book is a study in sisters, the past's influence on the present, emigration, the feeling of not-belonging and the urge to run away. I love this book. It draws you further and further in with every line. It moves about, both geographically and in time, so keeps you absorbed with every word.
Great. When is her next book out?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2011
I did enjoy the story of these two young people who have had more than their fair share of trajedy and family complicatons in their lives thus far. One could say that curcumstances are forced upon them, time and time again.
There were times when I became so frustrated, wanting to shout at the book, "For goodness sake, tell him (or her)," or "Don't do that!" Simple words or actions at the appropriate time would have save a whole mess of complications. I am sure that you have read similar books, or seen films, which have made you feel exactly the same way. But without those moments, the book would not be at all interesting, so, although frustrating, these twists are necessary.
I have seen that other reviewers were nott too keen on the way that everything came together too neatly at the end, but I disagree. Although the main threads of the story were neatly, and predicatably, tied up, there still were many loose ends. For example, I would have liked to know what the consequences were for all of the other main characters in the book.
The one thing that did irritate me about the way this story was narrated was the way that it skipped about so much in time and place. At times this was confusing, but mostly it was just annoying. Hence only three stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Maggie O'Farrell's third novel deals with two people, both from slightly complicated multi-cultural backgrounds, who meet by chance, find they are perfect for each other, but have to fight through a lot of present and past complications to get to the stage of having a life together. It is also about how families make us, and sibling relationships.
Scots-Italian Stella is a radio producer, travelling from country to country on short-term jobs. She is very close to her Italian relatives in Edinburgh (particularly her mother), to her quiet Scots father and to her difficult, volatile older sister Nina, but will not put down roots near her family or anywhere else. A strange meeting on Hungerford Bridge in London with a stranger causes Stella to have a strange fit of terror (why we learn much later), and she flees London and her current short-term job in radio for a hotel in the Scots countryside where she takes on a job as a chamber made.
Jake, son of a hippy mother and raised in Hong Kong, is British but has never been to England - until a tragedy at Chinese New Year leads to him impulsively agreeing to marry an Englishwoman. Coming to the UK, Jake realizes what a mistake he has made. Trying to escape his new bride and the life that is already weighing him down, he heads off to the Scots countryside, to a hotel where he believes his unknown father once worked - and where Stella is working...
Gradually, through a series of flashbacks contrasting to episodes in the present day, O'Farrell tells us more about Stella and Jake, and their families. We learn about Stella's clannish Italian/Scots family, her sister Nina's near-fatal illness as a child and how it changed the girls' relationship for good, with Stella almost becoming the older sister. We learn about Stella's mother and her anxiety for her girls. We learn about Jake's hippy mother who left Wales and her own difficult parents and got pregnant after a chance encounter and brief love affair in India. And, finally, we learn about the secret that has blighted Stella's life, and in a gripping final section, see whether she can actually break free from the past, and whether her sister Nina will let her go, and whether Jake can emerge from his increasingly messy private life and make a new beginning.
There's lots that's very enjoyable about this book. O'Farrell is fascinating on Jake and Stella's family backgrounds and how they've made them the people they are, and brings Scotland and Hong Kong very vividly to life. She makes Stella a very appealing character, and her relationship with sister Nina is certainly believable, though I found myself disliking Nina quite a lot and wishing I didn't. (O'Farrell never makes it quite clear how much Nina's manipulative and unstable behaviour as an adult is due to her illness; I guess it never would be clear though). The mystery in Stella's life is well portrayed, held cunningly back until the last minute. And Jake, though I didn't find him quite as sympathetic as Stella, and a bit self-involved, is also very interesting, and O'Farrell writes well about his longing to find out about his father. The only things that stops me giving the book a top rating is that firstly I felt Jake's reckless decision to marry his dying girlfriend - who then recovers - in Hong Kong wasn't quite believable, and secondly I wasn't entirely convinced by Stella and Jake's love for each other. O'Farrell gives them some lovely scenes together, but one's never sure exactly what the pull between them is (what they have in common, other than physical attraction, whether they envisage a longterm partnership). Both seem slightly remote people to be feeling such passion for each other - and the ending was rather deliberately 'cinematic' - I suppose a tribute to Jake's work in films. (Also one other query - why did O'Farrell kill off the sisters' cat? I thought that was just a bit of gratuitous nastiness.) Not my absolutely favourite O'Farrell but still a very good and rewarding read, and one I'd definitely read again several times.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2005
I'm a fan of Maggie O'Farrell's and was really looking forward to reading this. O'Farrell has always been about love, but love with a twist of melancholy. In this book, classic romance creeps in a big way and ... for me, part the thrill has gone [soft] for it.
The characters in "The distance between us" are not as involving and her writing is a lot less dark, losing some of its bite in the process.
In summary, this book is still a pretty good read, but it doesn't pack the same punch as some of her previous work (e.g. this is nowhere near as hard hitting as "After You'd Gone).