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On Canaan's Side (Dunne Family)

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  2,928 ratings  ·  474 reviews
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 emigre 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 fo
ebook, 272 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Oct 19, 2011 Debby rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
A. Mary
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
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
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
“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
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
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
I guess I'm alone in not liking this book. First, what everyone seems to think of a "lyrical" language is, to me, run on sentences that lose the point as they ramble. More times than once I had to stop and think "what on earth is the author getting at here?". Second, the strange, rambling plot contrivances that seemed to appear and disappear without resolution...the serial killer? why was Joe's car at the location of the murders (or did the "lyrical" language cause me to miss some key revelation ...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!
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
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
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
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
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
Contemplating suicide following the death of her grandson, Lilly Bere looks back on the story of her life.

Lilly has lived a very eventful life spanning two continents and has seen more than her fair share of death and suffering, however I found this book unengaging and lacking in suspense.

The potential drama of the story is undermined by the understated, detached way in which the book is written; and the absence of emotion or melodrama makes the event of Lilly's life seem unbelieveable.

I found t

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
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
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.
Sebastian Barry belongs to a long line of gifted Irish writers and this book would be worth reading simply for the beauty of its poetic imagery: “…the sun moved through the trees like water. . .it might have been a liquid or a thing you could touch. . .the sunlight moved through the trees like a gold wind.” Barry is a gifted story teller and it didn’t take long before I was captivated by 89 year old Lilly Dunne Bere who is grieving the suicide of the grandson she has raised. Her story is about j ...more
What a surprise to find a tragic mulatto in a novel by an Irish writer. Does Barry mean to suggest that American culture is just as strange to an outsider as the Irish hatreds and violence is to us? This plot twist about racial passing seemed outdated, and it's curious that it persists in a contemporary novel set in mid-century America.

Like The Secret Scripture, the plot coincidences seemed forced and the Kennedy connection was annoying. The story is told by an 89-year-old, uneducated Irish imm
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Final Chapter - Spoiler Alert 4 45 Mar 19, 2013 05:28AM  
  • Derby Day
  • The Last Hundred Days
  • A Cupboard Full of Coats
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb
  • Far to Go
  • Jamrach's Menagerie
  • The Spinning Heart
  • Pigeon English
  • Snowdrops
  • Love and Summer
  • Solace
  • The Stranger's Child
  • Half Blood Blues
  • Amongst Women
  • The Sojourn
  • Ghost Light
  • Mistaken
  • The Forgotten Waltz
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 about Sebastian Barry...

Other Books in the Series

Dunne Family (4 books)
  • The Steward of Christendom (Dunne Family #1)
  • Annie Dunne (Dunne Family #2)
  • A Long Long Way
The Secret Scripture A Long Long Way The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty Annie Dunne (Dunne Family #2) The Temporary Gentleman

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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” 13 likes
“What is the sound of an eighty-nine-year-old heart breaking?” 7 likes
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