The Distance Between Us – Review

The Distance Between UsThe Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story of two strangers, Stella living in London and Jake living in Hong Kong is woven together cleverly. The chapter-less structure of the story where you hop back and forth from one paragraph to the next between the parallel lives of the two love interests manages to gradually entwine Stella and Jake beautifully in the readers mind. The past is unravelled with evocative and viscerally described childhood and coming of age experiences that explain the relationship between the two sisters, Stella and Nina, in all its gloriously unhealthy insularity as well as inviting the reader to witness and relate to the complicated and competitive love between siblings.

I realise I may be biased here in relating to the female characters more, but I suppose Stella is the protagonist and as such I was given more reason to invest in hers and Nina’s story. I found a lack in Jake that left me a little cold and the emptiness in his character does not resolve itself at any point, but perhaps it is not meant to. His mother Caroline, on the other hand, is very interesting and I enjoyed the dialogues between Jake and his down to earth friend Hing Tai, who, to me, has a warm and immediate humour about him and a certainty to counter-balance Jake’s watery nature. But Jake himself seemed a little undeveloped. Consequently, I don’t think I cared too much about what happened to him.

There is something about the strength of the peripheral characters in this book, like Stella’s mother, Francesca, and her friendship with Evie, who we get to know just enough about to like and engage with, that add a quality whereby the field of vision is extended widely beyond the main plot. Because of this, because they are not too prescribed, the characters stay with you and grow organically and effortlessly.

I read The Distance Between Us in three nights which for me, as a SLOW reader, is pretty quick and testament to very well placed hooks and shows. I’m sure a normal person could gobble this lingering and resonance-rich novel up in no time at all. Overall, an enjoyable and sensory read.

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Journey to the End of the Night

hydrogen atom

This body of ours, this disguise put on by common jumping molecules, is in constant revolt against the abominable farce of having to endure.

Our molecules, the dears, want to get lost in the universe as fast as they can!

It makes them miserable to be nothing but ‘us,’ the jerks of infinity.

We’d burst if we had the courage, day after day we come very close to it.

The atomic torture we love so is locked up inside us by our pride.


― Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit, (Journey to the End of the Night) 1932


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