Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

On Canaan's Side: A NovelOn Canaan's Side is a new novel by two time Man Booker shortlisted author Sebastian Barry.  This novel was on the 2011 Man Booker long list but, to my surprise, did not make it to the shortlist.

The novel is the story of Lilly Bere's life, told over the series of days immediately after the passing of her grandson, Bill.  Her story spans decades, wars and countries.  Bere was born in Ireland, where her childhood was shrouded with the death of her mother and brother.  As a young woman, she had to flee her country and seek refuge in the United States.  Throughout her life, Bere continuously confronts loss and heartbreak; yet, she manages to love and grow.

The writing is the strength of this book.  Barry creates a wondrous intimacy with Bere through beautiful and picturesque writing.  While the book is quite sad, Bere does not drown in her sadness.  Barry does a masterful job carrying the story forward.

I like stories from the Irish literary tradition, for example Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin), William Trevor (Selected Stories) and John Banville (The Sea).  Barry fits right in.  Beautiful descriptions, moving stories, well-developed characters.

Although this did not make the Booker shortlist (I have issues with the list and what is not on the list), this novel is well worth reading.  Read it slowly and savor it.

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