On Canaan's Side
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On Canaan's Side (Dunne Family)

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  2,381 ratings  ·  440 reviews
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 Sligo, at the end of the First World War, and follows her life through into the new world of America, a world filled with hope and danger.
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 4th 2011 by Faber and Faber (first published January 1st 2011)
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The Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesBefore I Go To Sleep by S.J. WatsonThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittWhen God Was a Rabbit by Sarah WinmanHistory of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard  Mason
Man Booker Prize Eligible 2011
14th out of 154 books — 249 voters
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittThe Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesOn Canaan's Side by Sebastian BarrySnowdrops by A.D. MillerFar to Go by Alison Pick
MAN BOOKER PRIZE LONGLIST 2011
3rd out of 13 books — 19 voters


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Jeanette
The lad knows how to unspool a yarn, that is for certain.

If you're planning to read this book, I would caution you against reading long detailed reviews about the plot and characters. The story really needs to unfold at the author's pace in the proper sequence. If you have hints of what's coming, it will dull your enjoyment of the book.

JUST THE BASICS: Lilly is an 89-year-old woman who is preparing to take her own life. Her grandson Bill has committed suicide, which is just one too many losses...more
Fionnuala
I have read three of Sebastian Barry's books so far, The Secret Scripture, Annie Dunne and this one. In all of them, he shows himself to be capable of creating hugely memorable characters and of relaying their thoughts in such beautiful language that I find myself rereading passages frequently. This is writing to savour like good wine, full of intense expression and deep feeling. I think my favourite of the three is Annie Dunne because Barry hardly bothers with any plot at all so the spare story...more
Dem
When I started this book I just read the first 30 pages and did not get back to it until the next day and when I picked it up again I was hooked and could not put it down I really enjoyed this novel. I had previously read The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and loved it so was looking forward to this book.

This book is long listed for the Booker Prize and tells the story of 89 year old Lilly Dunne's departure from Ireland with her boyfriend Tadg who was a member of the Black and Tans and the...more
Els
Adembenemend mooi en dieptreurig tegelijk, dat zijn de twee dingen die in me opkomen als ik dit verhaal zou moeten kenschetsen. Sebastian Barry hanteert in deze roman dezelfde vertelvorm als in 'De geheime schrift': oude vrouw blikt terug op haar leven en zet haar verhaal op papier. In dit geval gaat het om Lilly Dunne uit Ierland die op haar negentiende noodgedwongen naar Amerika emigreert, samen met haar verloofde Tadg. Ik zal niet verklappen wat er vervolgens allemaal gebeurt, behalve dat hun...more
TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez
I know a lot of people who weren’t familiar with Sebastian Barry’s work until the publication of the Booker shortlisted The Secret Scripture. Barry, however, has been around for quite some time. He’s written five novels now, a host of plays, and three poetry collections, and he’s collected several awards for his writing including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Independent Bookseller’s Prize, and the Irish Book Awards Prize for “Best Novel.” Those of us who’re familiar with his work kno...more
Adrian White
When I first tried reading Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way, I had something of an adverse reaction and put it down; or rather, I threw it down, shouting why the fuck couldn't he just write one simple sentence without all that flowery, roundabout, get-there-in-the-end fluff and nonsense? In other words, there was something of a culture clash as this English boy found the Irish boy's use of language to be quite an alien thing. It wasn't until I heard Sebastian Barry read from the book that I got...more
Maria
I would have finished this book sooner, had I not loved it so much. As I told my friend, I spun the last few pages out like a stick of candy floss, I just could not bear for it to end. But there's no escaping the inevitable, and end it did. I don't think any review of this book from me could do it justice, I just feel I'm not up to the task. And although I loved, loved, LOVED it, I don't know if I understood the ending properly, so leaving that alone altogether. So for what it's worth, then, the...more
Elaine
I really wanted to love this book, with its naive yet poetic, rhythmic voice, but I could not. Instead, doubts clawed at me (what a spry crew of seniors up through nonagenerians we have in Lilly Bere, Mr. Nolan, Mr. Eugenides, etc. -- is it possible that an 89 year old could write her autobiography, including of her various forays from Bridgehampton beachside to village shops, and not have physical frailty, apart from the oddly featured constipation, enter into it? Are there too many coincidence...more
Tony
I love to cook. I do. I have a binder where I carry recipes and notes. I lug it from its shelf. A history of sorts and an old friend who soothes. I may have to add this advice, spoken to the main character in this wonderful book:

'Heat is how that pot thinks, Lilly. It is like my grandma singing a lullaby, not too loud so you keep sleep away, not too soft and baby can't hear the words. Try and hear the heat, Lilly. Hear the pot thinking. You hear it, you hear it? It's there. You will. And when yo...more
Debby
Oct 19, 2011 Debby rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Debby by: Irene
Shelves: 5-star-books
This is the first book I've read by Sebastian Barry and it just happens to be his most recent book. I will be going back to his first novel and reading his work from the beginning. If On Canaan's Side is any evidence of his craft as a storyteller, I've found myself a new author to follow! storyteller! Spellbinding for sure!

On Canaan's Side is the story of Irish immigrant, Lilly Bere. As the story opens, Lillly, now in her 80's, is mourning the recent death of her grandson, Bill. She cannot imagi...more
Lakis Fourouklas
To put it simply: Sebastian Barry writes so beautifully, so poetically, that when I read his books I find myself almost ashamed to admit that I’m also a writer – and a jealous one at that. His prose is so deeply humane and so well-crafted that almost reads like verse; verse that makes you want to cry; no, not from sorrow, but from joy, for having the privilege of reading it. I’m not implying that the subject matters with which the good author is preoccupied are pleasant, quite the opposite, they...more
Elaine
As I neared the end of this novel, I felt, as Lily must have. that her death would also be the end of Willie, Annie Dunne and their father. They lived on only in her memory, Lily being the last of the family to die.

Willie's experiences in World War I are told as he lived through them in the first novel of this trilogy, A Long, Long Way. Annie's, told in Annie Dunne. are plans for the future, as well as memories. Lily's are wholly in reminiscences.

So brilliantly is each done that you feel as the...more
Vivian Valvano
I loved the narrator, Lilly. (She was born Lilly Dunne, daughter of the unforgettable James Dunne, Chief Supt. of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, originally created in Barry's THE STEWARD OF CHRISTENDOM; she was thus the sister of Willie, Annie, and Maud, known to readers of STEWARD and some of Barry's previous novels.) I loved the way the narrative was set up - as 17 days of Lilly mourning her grandson, with her memories of her past reflected on during those days. I especially loved the way Bar...more
A. Mary Murphy
I think this book wants to be an epic, but it never makes it. There are many wars, races, nations, events, but it just never comes together as a grand story. The major shortcoming is Lilly, the protagonist and narrator. Barry did a much stronger job of creating an aged Irish woman when he wrote Roseanne in The Secret Scripture. There are problems of voice with Lilly. Rarely does she speak as an Irish person, even though she was nearly twenty when she emigrated. The occasional little phrase is dr...more
Katherine
“What use was the lighthouse’s light to those on land, I never knew, giving light to heather and fields, but really desiring to put that moon path of silver light along the tundras and swells of the Wicklow sea” (19).
“Oh yes I am thinking the human soul is a very slight thing, and not much evolution has gone into it I fear. It is a vague slight notion with not even a proper niche in the body. And yet is the only thing we have that God will measure” (25).
“…I traipsed back the way I had come, at l...more
Bernie Mcgill
I started this review on the inside of a packet of raisins I was using as a bookmark-cum-snack at the time of reading the book. I had to write down what was in my head, and that was the only paper at hand (apart from the book itself, of course, and I would never desecrate a book like that). This is what I wrote: ‘I didn’t think it possible, but I’ve fallen in love with Sebastian Barry’s writing all over again. Lilly Bere is a delight as a storyteller – we follow her willingly from Dublin at the...more
Marleen
On the first day after her grandson Billy dies, Lilly Bere, eighty-nine years old, starts writing down the story of her life before she intends to put an end to it.
Over the next seventeen days she writes in her accounts book a story that starts in Ireland before World War I and ends in America during the gulf war.
Before Lilly was twenty years old she had to flee Ireland with the man she loved when the violence let loose in the country is threatening her and Tadg Bere’s lives.
Once in America life...more
Gina
This is the first Sebastian Barry novel that I have read, and wow, does he have a way with words. I give this five stars, based not on the story, but on the prose. Some readers might complain about the long, long, run on sentences that Lily, the narrator, favors. But to me, reading this book often felt like reading a river as it flows. And along the river, Barry leaves treasures of words and insight and beauty.

The narration was at its finest when describing the job of child rearing, the pain an...more
Richard Lewis
As much as I enjoy his writing style, as poetic as it is, like finding a trunk full of sentimental treasures tucked away in the back of your closet, or in the garage, of for those who might still have them, in the attic, it is just that with this novel. Few writers that I'm familiar with can capture our inner workings as well as Sebastian Barry, of that there's no doubt. You can't help but nod in agreement, or sigh, when you read the gems he crafts with language.

But the sorrow and sadness are s...more
Jim Elkins
If you like this book, either you know nothing about Ireland, or you subscribe to the shabbiest clichés. There aren't any other options.

The book has some real empathy and emotion, and it is written tenderly, as Colm Toibín says. But the onslaught of clichés begins on the first page and never lets up. At first I thought it was ironic, and later I hoped it might be an attempt to create a period feeling, but the clichés are unremitting. There are entire pages made up of nothing but clichés about ol...more
Brian
Like Sebastian Barry's other novels, On Canaan's Side examines the way individuals are crushed beneath the wheels of larger events and yet somehow manage to maintain a kind of dignity.

Lily's father is the superintendent of police in Dublin at the time of the Irish War of Independence, which puts him and his family on the wrong side of history. Just as he is reaching the pinnacle of his career the whole edifice of British rule in Ireland is disintegrating

Lily is scarcely aware of the changes goin...more
Gayle

Not since Jesmyn Ward's SALVAGE THE BONES, has a book floored me like ON CANAAN'S SIDE by Sebastian Barry.
In approximately 250 pages, you get the life story of Lily, who is 89 years old and recording in her journal before she ends her life. Her beloved grandson is dead and she feels no reason to go on.
This book is a rare jewel covering: immigration and a deep love for her new country, the cruelty of wars, one right after the other, race issues (though Lily herself has no hangups.)
The writing see...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was longlisted for the Booker this year, but didn't make the shortlist. Too bad! This was definitely better than Snowdrops and Jamrach's Menagerie.

Lilly Bere writes about her life in the weeks following her grandson's death in Kuwait, following Ireland at the end of WWI through the present day. Well-written, engaging, and sad.

"Fear is a force like a seasickness, could you call it a lifesickness, a terrible nausea caused by dread, creeping dread, that seems to withdraw a little in dreams wh...more
Derek Deane
Beautiful prose and peppered with wondrous turns of phrase, these being givens at this stage for a Sebastian Barry novel (for which he deserves the upmost praise). As for the plot....seriously, how unfortunate can any one individual be? How many wars and political conflicts was the narrator adversely effected by? It's a wonder that ould Lilly Dunne wasn't one of the Iranian hostages!
Celine
Just extraordinarily beautiful and satisfying and moving. The gentle sifting through of a life lived with courage and gentleness, witness to multiple quiet kindnesses and casual cruelties, all against the great turning mill-wheel of time and history. Barry's usual stunning prose thrilled and delighted me throughout.
Lexie
Quotes:

I am dwelling on things I love, even if a measure of tragedy is stitched into everything, if you follow the thread long enough.

...dressed in shadows, disguised by the thin dust of terror he carried on him...

What his true nature was I will leave to God, but I have a sense still that I loved him, I mean to say, I feel that love still.

My father looked into the middle distance. I think he looked into it for the rest of his life.

... mixed in with the treacle-heavy sorrow of that time is a lit...more
Deborah Biancotti
Beautifully written and vivid, but ultimately I didn't find this book satisfying.

One goodreads review suggested that reading the book was "like trying to find a story in a beautiful poem", & indeed I often felt like Lily Bere's tale of repetitive loss and domestic tragedy seemed to miss the most potentially interesting stories. Joe's tale, in particular, was something I wish I could have read (instead of, y'know, this one) since it seemed there was so much more conflict there, so much more...more
Elizabeth K.
This was lovely and charming and beautifully written, also sad. It's a short novel taking place over the course of just a few days, as an elderly woman reflecting back on the significant people and events of her life. One thing I loved about it is that her recollections are made with an explicit awareness that her memories are informed and altered by the very act of retelling them. The writing is exquisite, and it's the kind of book that makes you want to remember specific observations and phras...more
Bernadette Jansen op de Haar
On Canaan’s Side is another moving novel told in Barry’s lilting Irish voice. I was particularly taken with his passages about Irish and American identity.

It also describes a bit of a generation gap I think, nowadays we are far more keen and able to manipulate our own destiny, in a way that would have never occurred to Lily but it did to her son and grandson.

I was also very much reminded of his great stage plays, The Steward of Christendom and Our Lady of Sligo, and wondered if this could not eq...more
Eliza
2/21/12: This most recent novel by Sebastian Barry isn't as spectacular as either of his earlier novels, The Secret Scripture (Mike's favorite) or A Long Long Way (mine). Nevertheless, it rewards Barry lovers with another lovely and wrenching tale. Lilly Dunne Bere, like Roseanne McNulty (in TSS), has lived a long life and has decided, at an advanced age, to write that life down. The difference between them is that Roseanne never left Ireland, but Lilly came to America as a young girl, and lived...more
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Final Chapter - Spoiler Alert 4 43 Mar 19, 2013 05:28AM  
  • Derby Day
  • The Last Hundred Days
  • A Cupboard Full of Coats
  • Far to Go
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb
  • Jamrach's Menagerie
  • The Spinning Heart
  • Solace
  • The Stranger's Child
  • Love and Summer
  • Pigeon English
  • Snowdrops
  • The Quality of Mercy
  • Ghost Light
  • Amongst Women
  • The Wilderness
  • Mistaken
  • Long Time, No See
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Sebastian Barry is an Irish playwright, novelist and poet. He is noted for his dense literary writing style and is considered one of Ireland's finest writers

Barry's literary career began in poetry before he began writing plays and novels. In recent years his fiction writing has surpassed his work in the theatre in terms of success, having once been considered a playwright who wrote occasional nove...more
More about Sebastian Barry...
The Secret Scripture A Long Long Way The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty Annie Dunne (Dunne Family #2) The Steward of Christendom (Dunne Family #1)

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“There is such solace in the mere sight of water. It clothes us delicately in its blowing salt and scent, gossamer items that medicate the poor soul” 10 likes
“What is the sound of an eighty-nine-year-old heart breaking?” 6 likes
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