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wonderful story beautifully written
On Canaan’s Side is the 7th novel by Irish author Sebastian Barry and is, deservedly, winner of the 2012 Walter Scott Prize. It was also long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Lilly Bere (whom fans of Barry’s work will recognise as the youngest daughter of Thomas Dunne from The Steward Of Christendom, sister of Willie, Maud and Annie Dunne) writes, over the seventeen days since she has buried her beloved and troubled grandson, Bill, her thoughts about her life of almost ninety years. Through Lilly’s reminiscences, we learn of her childhood in Ireland, her escape to America with her fiancé Tadg, her marriage to, and abandonment by the mysterious Joe, and the raising her son Ed and her grandson Bill. Lilly encounters hardship, fear, great loss and heartbreak, but also incredible generosity, kindness and small victories. Despite intimacies and closeness, Lilly is not allowed to really know the significant men in her life (Thomas, Tadg, Joe, Ed, Bill and Mr Nolan), often until it was far too late, if at all, yet she shows grace, courage, an enormous capacity for forgiveness and rejects opportunities for revenge. With his prose, some of it achingly beautiful, Barry evokes atmosphere, mood and emotion, and comments on the unspoken tragedies of wars and rebellions. Some favourite quotes: “I wonder if I were to have an X-ray at the little hospital, would the machine see my grief? Is it like a rust, a rheum about the heart?” “…. beamed out a smile as good as the Wicklow lighthouse when at last it turns its great arc towards you.” “We may be immune to typhoid, tetanus, chicken pox, diphtheria, but never memory. There is no inoculation against that.” “The gift of life, oftentimes so difficult to accept, the horse whose teeth we are so often inclined to inspect.” “To remember sometimes is a great sorrow, but when the remembering has been done, there comes afterward a very curious peacefulness. Because you have planted your flag on the summit of sorrow. You have climbed it.” A wonderful story, beautifully written.
Stunning, captivating, fascinating.
Readers who enjoy historical fiction will likely love this book.
Readers who identify with stories of loss will be grateful for this book.
I want to write more about why I loved this book, but I am just speechless.