Monday, 22 August 2011

On Canaan's Side

Title: On Canaan’s Side

Author: Sebastian Barry

Number of pages:

Started: 20 August 2011

Finished: 22 August 2011

Opening words:

Bill is gone.

What is the sound of an eighty-nine-year-old heart breaking?

It might not be much more than silence, and certainly a small slight sound.

When I was four I owned a porcelain doll given me by a strange agency. My mother’s sister, who lived down in Wicklow, had kept it from her own childhood and that of her sister, and gave it to me as a sort of keepsake of my mother. At four such a doll may be precious for other reasons, not least her beauty. I can still see the painted face, calm and oriental, and the blue silk dress she wore. My father much to my puzzlement was worried by such a gift. It troubled him in a way I had no means to understand. He said it was too much for a little girl, even though the same little girl he himself loved with a complete worship.

One Sunday about a year after I was first given it, I insisted on bringing it to mass with me, despite the long and detailed protestations of my father, who was religious in the sense he hoped there was an afterlife. He bet all his heart on that. Somehow a doll was not a fitting mass-goer in his estimation.

Read the first chapter here

You can find a video here of the author reading an extract: here

Plot summary:

Narrated by Lilly Bere, On Canaan’s Side opens as she mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. The story then goes back to the moment she was forced to flee Dublin, at the end of the First World War, and follows her life through into the new world of America, a world filled with both hope and danger.

At once epic and intimate, Lilly’s narrative unfurls as she tries to make sense of the sorrows and troubles of her life and of the people whose lives she has touched. Spanning nearly seven decades, it is a novel of memory, war, family-ties and love, which once again displays Sebastian Barry's exquisite prose and gift for storytelling.

What I thought:

On Canaan’s Side was the story of Lilly Bere from birth through to her death. It started in Ireland and ended in the United State’s – Canaan’s Side. I was not overly enamoured with the Irish parts of this tale, but preferred the parts set in America. This was certainly quite a depressing tale, with the major theme running through it being death. It starts with the death of Lilly’s grandson, which was the latest in a lifetime of deaths.

The book was well written, but never truly engaged me.

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