Kathryn Gann, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Kathryn Gann)
For a short book, this one packs a wallop. Sebastian Barry explores the themes of love, grief, memory, war, and the 20th Century through seventeen days in the life of Lilly Bere, as told from her first-person perspective. I was hooked on page 4 where Lilly comments on grief following her grandson's death: "I am so terrified by grief that there is solace in nothing. I carry in my skull a sort of molten sphere instead of a brain, and I am burning there, with horror, and misery." I had both an emotional and a visceral response to those words. There is nothing predictable about this story, and the twists and turns force the reader to confront all the aforementioned themes. The book has resonated with me for a year, and I'm sure it will continue to seep into my thinking as time goes on. Just as "A Long, Long Way" by the same author has done (and I read that over 5 years ago).
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Vera Fessler, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by Vera Fessler)
The life of a single woman glows in this gentle recounting of her life from youth in Ireland to the end of her life in the United States over the course of most of the 20th century. Barry's lyrical language defies hurried reading: my copy is heavily underlined with sentences I hope to recall. A uniquely flowing spirit infuses this memorable tale--its magic never slips into sentimentality or cliche.
Sebastian Barry's ability to explore the inner workings of human thought and emotion are paired with his innate ability to capture these things on paper. His novels often read like memoirs: he is somehow able to create characters that are so real, you can feel their breath, see their face, and experience their despair. On Canaan's Side gives us the story of Lily Bere, who loses her grandson, and while immersed in a grief that she knows will kill her, she begins chronicling her life. Spanning seven decades and two continents, Lily tells her story of love, marriage, fear, tragedy, and the mysteries in life that are often unanswerable. Barry is an absolute master of combining exquisite prose with an intriguing story, and his books are an enlightening experience of beauty and insight.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Lilly Bere is an 89-year-old retired cook living in the Hamptons in Long Island in Irish writer Barry's latest novel (after The Secret Scripture). Lilly is mourning her grandson, a veteran of the first Gulf War, who has just committed suicide. But this is hardly the first loss she's had in a life spanning continents and many other wars. Born and raised in Ireland, Lilly's first encounter with loss comes when her brother Willie is killed in WWI. A fellow soldier, Tadg Bere, comes to pay his respects to the family and woos her in earnest soon after. The young couple has no time to marry, as Tadg, enrolled in the Black and Tans, an auxiliary police force, is implicated in an ambush of IRA militia men and a price is put on both their heads. They flee to America under assumed names, hoping to start a new life there in safety with the help of some extended family in Chicago, but the past catches up with them. Over the subsequent decades, Lilly is tossed around her adopted country, grappling with the distance from her homeland. She's fascinated by the expansiveness and vigor of America despite her unceasing heartache over the generations of men and their war service. Barry's skills are evident as he tenderly unspools Lilly's story, with a fine eye for intimate moments, but the final impression of her life against its historical backdrop is clouded by the familiarity of many of the novel's elements and the schematic way each additional emotional blow falls relentlessly, tugging at the reader's heartstrings with diminishing force. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a mesmerizing new novel from the award-winning author of The Secret Scripture
A first-person narrative of Lilly Bere’s life, On Canaan’s Side opens as the eighty-five-year-old Irish émigré mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly, the daughter of a Dublin policeman, revisits her eventful past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland at the end of the First World War. She continues her tale in America, where—far from her family—she first tastes the sweetness of love and the bitterness of betrayal.
Spanning nearly seven decades, Sebastian Barry’s extraordinary fifth novel explores memory, war, family ties, love, and loss, distilling the complexity and beauty of life into his haunting prose.
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