Britisher O’Farrell’s second (following her award-winning debut, After You’d Gone, 2001) is a fairly standard tale, set in London, of girls meeting, getting, and losing boys.
Lily is a professional translator who gave up her career because she found herself unable to think in English anymore, and she now moves among odd jobs as secretary, babysitter, and window-dresser while living at home with her mother. At an art gallery opening, she meets Marcus, a handsome architect, who makes a pass at her and invites her to live with him—as a roommate. With nothing to lose, Lily agrees and moves into Marcus’s custom-designed loft, taking the room that until recently had belonged to a woman named Sinead (who, Marcus explains ominously, “is no longer with us”). Sinead’s presence hovers over the room like a ghost (her clothes, her perfume, Marcus’s unwillingness to talk about her), and Lily finds herself increasingly haunted—to such a degree that at times she even sees Sinead in the apartment. Is she losing her mind? Possibly—but not in the way she thinks: Sinead is alive and well, teaching at a London university, and, eventually, Lily sees her in a bookstore. By this time, Lily has become Marcus’s lover and has figured out that Sinead was an old flame whom Marcus preferred not to discuss. But Lily needs to know what went wrong between them, and she begins stalking Sinead in an attempt to speak to her. Eventually she succeeds, and Sinead tells Lily what came between her and Marcus. It’s not really much of a secret—in fact, it sounds a bit like an episode of Friends—but it lets Lily know what sort of man she’s dealing with.
Hip and understated, but, at its heart, embarrassingly mawkish and sentimental.