11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A mesmerising tale of the redeeming power of memory....,
This review is from: On Canaan's Side (Paperback)"To remember sometimes is a great sorrow, but when the remembering has been done, there comes afterwards a very curious peacefulness. Because you have planted your flag on the summit of the sorrow. You have climbed it."
It's been a while since I have inhabited a novel to such an extent that returning to reality was almost unwelcome; it was at 3am this morning I finished "On Canaan's Side" to the chill of November air beyond my duvet.
Barry's novel demands a poetic review, such is the power of his writing, which is poetic in a way that only prose can be, vibrant with sweeping epic similes that meander over sentences, entrancing, ever so slightly imprecise. And it's the blurred edges of this narrative, its imagistic nature, which make tangible the memories of 89 year old Lilly Bere as she writes "terrified by grief" because she: "cannot depart without some effort to account for this despair."
And hers is a life that has courted a disproportionate amount of tragedy that would have floored all but the strongest of souls. Lilly though is "thankful for my life, infinitely" and her survival is due to a keen awareness of all the tiny moments of happiness that have been scattered through her life, and the lives of the people she's loved, and which she gathers around her as a shield against the relentless blows that fate has dealt her. "It's like a sort of TV, these memories" she tells us, and we know exactly what she means. We are there with her, on the roller-coaster just as the sun appears from behind a cloud "like a very thunderstorm of light" and she is "poised in the gentle under-singing of the wind ... almost to heaven", as surely as we are there when murder arrives with "vigorous unstoppable intent" pitching her down "to the core of the earth".
The empathy that Lilly inspires is where Sebastian Barry as a storyteller excels. He has created a woman whose desire to live burns brightly; whose indomitable will, generosity of spirit, optimism and understanding are irresistible. Lilly moves us by teaching us afresh what we already know, and what lies at the deepest heart of her story, the redeeming power of memory: "people that I have loved are allowed to live again ... the special happiness that is offered from the hand of sorrow."
Overall the novel feels very natural and unaffected, except for a final twist of coincidence, or fate, that seems contrived when weighed against the light touch with which the author has hitherto worked. I realise that some people dislike Barry's prose, but it would take a determinedly critical eye indeed to hunt out the artifice beneath its beauty. He is no Nabakov bullying a language into wild submission; instead, English comes alive under his touch as the sunshine might coax a bud into bloom. Few novelists can, with such apparent ease, create such a mesmerising and well-crafted tale for which the reader will give up their own world without even noticing: Sebastian Barry does here.
Tracked by 1 customer
Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 May 2012 10:21:20 BDT
CAROL MCGRATH says:
This is a superbly eloquent review.
In reply to an earlier post on 26 May 2012 17:11:44 BDT
Thanks for the kind comment. :)
Posted on 16 Dec 2013 18:39:59 GMT
Mot Juste says:
...to the chill of November air outside my duvet......
Please write a book so I can read it.
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Dec 2013 17:48:08 GMT
Thanks, Mot Juste, I think I was inspired to lyricism by this author.
‹ Previous 1 Next ›