Sebastian Barry – On Canaan’s Side

Sebastian Barry is, perhaps, my favourite modern author.  His prose is stunningly beautiful, unsurprisingly poetic (he writes poetry too) and he creates wonderful  ‘images’  of the Irish landscape and the other places his narratives take his characters to.  Early 20th century Irish history and its frequent brutality is never far from the surface in Barry’s writing, but it usually done with a light touch.

This is a day the land is being absolutely thumped by rain. Millions and millions of little explosions in the fields, making the soil jump. The roots of things I am sure are delighted by it, if it doesn’t actually kill them.

barryIn ‘On Canaan’s Side’ Barry continues the intertwined tales of the Dunnes – with the 89 year old Lilly Bere, the sister of Willie Dunne from ‘A Long, Long Way’. She recounts and contemplates on her life after the suicide of her grandson who failed to cope with the aftermath of being a Gulf War veteran. The narrative goes from rural Ireland, a flight to New York following death threats, to the ‘glittering Canaan’ of Chicago and then on to Cleveland.  Her life is at times brutal with frequent upheavals, poverty and trauma – but it is a fantastic story brought to life by Barry’s beautiful prose.

I am dwelling on things I love, even if a measure of tragedy is stitched into everything, if you follow the thread long enough

As in the ‘Secret Scripture’ there is a clever twist in the plot towards the end of the novel, which was less easy to spot in ‘On Canaan’s Side,’ although I won’t describe it as I don’t want to ’spoil’ the plot.

There is such solace in the mere sight of water. It clothes us delicately in its blowing salt and scent, gossamer items that medicate the poor soul

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