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The Nature of Water and Air

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  613 Ratings  ·  114 Reviews
"My mother was never easy in the world of houses. She was a tinker, a traveler girl who had married a wealthy man. Her name was Agatha Sheehy....There are silences all around my mother's story."
So begins The Nature of Water and Air, set on a patch of Irish coast where, amid a flurry of whispers, we meet Agatha's only surviving daughter, Clodagh. Determined to secure her
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 2nd 2001 by Touchstone (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

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Dec 01, 2008 Grace rated it it was ok
This book is an example of how a well-written book can go awry. From the first page, I was hooked on the writing style. The author seemed to be a pro at beautiful prose poetry style writing. And although the first segment of the plot, with the protagonist, her sister, their mother, and a housekeeper all living in a house by the sea, seemed to go on far too long, the book later picked up pace and began being quite good.

But then came the ending.

I had heard that this book had a strange ending, and
Sep 12, 2012 Sarah marked it as unfinished
Regina McBride is a poet and this, her first novel, feels very much like poetry. The prose has a sweet, lilting quality. It's steeped in sensation and emotional resonance. It's lovely. But, for me, it was a little too immediate. Too much water and air. Not enough thoughtful analysis. WAY too much horrifying sex. --I don't mean "graphic." I definitely mean "horrifying."

McBride achieved what she set out to do. (Or I'll assume she did.) It just isn't for me.
Carrie Thomas
Jul 23, 2007 Carrie Thomas rated it it was amazing
Set on the Irish coastline, this book is hauntingly beautiful, sad, sensitive, and thought-provoking. I love books with an ironic (even if it's heart-breaking) twist and surprise. She is a beautiful storyteller.
Apr 17, 2010 Noelle rated it it was amazing
This is not my review. It is a review from Luan Gaines but much better than I could write:
Indeed, the young Clodagh lives in thrall of her beautiful if distant mother, Agatha Sheehy, one come from the world of itinerant tinkers, who listens carefully to the call of the wild land where they live, at the edge of the sea. Agatha's actions are shrouded with secrecy and sexual intimation, and she drifts just beyond her daughter's knowing, unwilling to be caught by time or place.

Clodagh's fragile twin
Aug 15, 2010 Keri rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 26, 2010 Diana rated it really liked it
I thought this book was beautifully written. I think that people are getting too distracted with what was admittedly a very disturbing and taboo twist. I did not love the twist, but I do not think the author's intent was to disgust the reader, but more to fully relay to you the core of the story. This is about Clodagh trying to figure out herself and even more than that, her mother. She is essentially so fascinated by her mother and the story that she does not know, that she is brought to a dark ...more
Apr 30, 2013 Victoria rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lit-fic, ireland, family, twins
Wow. I did enjoy this book, but it was QUITE unsettling... truly crossing the line into disturbing territory, even. The plot really took me by surprise. It was hard to see what was coming, and even in the moments that took more predictable turns, it wasn’t something that a reader wanted to correctly guess. While not an uplifting book (at all), its harshness was really balanced about by the moments of beauty and the strength of the writing itself. The shock of the end really overshadowed the majo ...more
Jan 25, 2008 Angela rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Jenn Gregg:>)
Recommended to Angela by: Melissa Dalbert
This is a sordid tale of love, passion and destiny. I am not one for sordid twisted plots, but her style of writing is remarkable. It was a riveting read. If not for the twisted end I would have rated the book a five star.
Nov 06, 2011 Lin rated it it was amazing
This is the only novel i ever chose to read twice. It remains my favorite ever.
Feb 02, 2011 Christie rated it liked it
Emily White of the New York Times Book Review says “Regina McBride writes in a shimmering and often hypnotic prose style, one that’s full of incantatory repetition…The Nature of Water and Air has an urgent melancholy about it — it casts an undeniable spell.”

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I thought McBride managed to capture a particular time and place (1970s Ireland) extremely well. I was intrigued by the book’s opening lines: “There are silences all around my mother’s s
Jul 23, 2013 Jessica rated it really liked it
I did not actually read this book, I listened to it on audio. The atmosphere of this book comes through with every word. The narrator spoke in the lilting Irish accent that only added depth to the story that I am sure I would have missed had I read this. Some books are meant to be heard, rather than read. If you have a choice, listen to this one.

The sentence structure of this book is far from plain, but at the same time, is not too flowery. Sometimes a word was simply exchanged for a more perfec
Emilia Kandl
Aug 03, 2014 Emilia Kandl rated it it was amazing
As disturbing as this book was, I still really liked it. Readers might feel that it moves slowly, since the author spends a lot of time establishing the setting and characters who exit the story less than halfway through. Personally, I was mesmerized enough by the gorgeous language and descriptions to never be bored. I also felt the different phases of the story were meant to blur together, with dead characters playing as solid (or more solid) a role as living ones. The setting is an especially ...more
Robert Beveridge
Jan 24, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it really liked it
Regina McBride, The Nature of Water and Air (Simon and Schuster, 2001)


Okay, now that my first impressions are out of the way, this is one hell of a ride. All the more so because most books that have that effect on me are your typical big budget thrillers that, were they to go to the big screen, would be directed by John McTiernan or someone along those lines who uses a lot of pyrotechnics. The Nature of Water and Air is anything but; stuff doesn't blow up here at all. In fact, it tends to do
Jul 08, 2008 Mary-Beth rated it liked it
The characters in this book infuriated me constantly. I think that's a biased and fairly unhelpful opinion, but there it is. The characters lie to one another constantly and as a result end up in a morally questionable situation. I'm not going to explain any further than that because it would ruin the story, such as it is, but this tale isn't for the squeamish. As a result of these constant lies the worst always happens to the characters, to the extent that I basically said, "oh come on," and go ...more
Jan 30, 2009 Diane rated it really liked it
This book is beautifully written, almost poetic. Regina McBride tells a gripping story that revolves around love, folklore, and the ability to find yourself.
Clodagh is on a journey to discover herself and the secrets of her family. She wants only to find some acceptance and love. She does find it but only to realize that other darker things are at work here.

The atmosphere in this story is what helps to make it so compelling. We can almost see the buildings, the water and the fires that burn. W
Lolly K Dandeneau
May 17, 2016 Lolly K Dandeneau rated it really liked it
Oh boy. I understand now why the hesitance for other reviewers to give more stars, the subject is Uncomfortable with a capital U. I will review more tomorrow.
Jan 31, 2008 Rachel rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book though it seems I'm on a kick with reading books containing subjects that may be uncomfortable or downright unacceptable to some. I'm not going to give away what it is because to me, it's a pivotal place in the book and you'd lose part of what makes this book so beautiful if you knew from the beginning. I'd recommend it...the writing is beautiful...I felt like I could literally see and smell what was described...and the characters and story will gain your interest and ...more
Haworth Library
Apr 02, 2013 Haworth Library rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
A beautiful story about a young girl, the loss of her family, and her grips with finding her own identity. Told in Ireland, Clodagh is born to a mother whom everyone believes is a Selkie. After the death of Clodagh's wealthy father, Clodagh's mother becomes more attached to Clodagh's twin sister Mare. After Mare's early death, Cloddagh's mother seems to abandon her altogether and reclaim her old life as a tinker.

A beautiful story that capture's the essence of Ireland and the life of Tinkers.
Aug 10, 2015 Jessica rated it really liked it
Read my review & others at:

Lyrical and haunting, The Nature of Water and Air is the debut novel of poet Regina McBride. Narrator Clodagh Sheehy is lost in the world. Set in Ireland in the 1970's, the story takes on a much more gothic feel than it's time line suggests. Clodagh's mother is Agatha, a beautiful and mysterious woman who seems to have appeared from nowhere. A tinker (traveller) girl with no family, no home and no last name to speak of, Agatha
Feb 11, 2015 Sondra rated it really liked it
A good read, but with some reservations. The author does a great job of depicting the everyday life of an upper-class family in Twentieth Century Ireland without all the hype about drunken fathers, broods of starving children, British oppression and the tyranny of the Catholic Church that beset so many other novels set in Ireland, at least the ones we see here in the United States. The setting is awesome and the author skillfully uses the stormy, desolate landscape along the North Atlantic Coast ...more
Jan 29, 2016 Pamela rated it really liked it
I'm beginning to read some Irish literature in preparation for my trip. This was the first. (The author, it turns out, is an American, but spent time living in Ireland. So not technically 'Irish literature').
The rugged western coast of Ireland, where we will visit, is a vivid presence in this book. A compelling story, beautifully written, wonderfully atmospheric and evocative. A tale of tinkers and the 'settled' world, permanence and impermanence, and Clodagh's place at the seam of these worlds
Carly Svamvour
Feb 22, 2011 Carly Svamvour rated it it was amazing
I'm enjoying this as much as I did The Marriage Bed. I look forward to everything this author has, or will have to offer.

I've been reading some of the reviews here - I don't really know what happens at the end, but I doubt I'll be that shocked.

Better wait till I get there, I guess but I doubt I'll change my rating.

Apr 27, 2012 Rachelle rated it it was amazing
I can't explain why I loved this book so much; I've read it twice and both times it just broke my heart. I'll probably read it again in a few years. The writing is ethereal and I found myself in the landscape of Ireland, longing to be there and experience it. I read "The Marriage Bed" by Regina McBride and didn't enjoy it as much.
Aug 20, 2013 Candace rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most well written stories I have ever come across. The author truly has a way with words. I loved the fact that this story was something different. Irish Literature at its best. Reader beware though this novel deals with depressing and taboo subject matter that may not be everyone's cup of tea.
Elizabeth Halsey
Jun 01, 2013 Elizabeth Halsey rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book. Regina was able to depict the life of a female that is living, thinking , and striving for wholeness in a way I have never read, only experienced first-hand. Well done. I think we are all her students today; with a teacher that took something deep from herself and gave it to us.
Second star for the language, it was beautiful.
But what a terrible book! Star-crossed lovers, bad mothers, evil aunts and a cliche-built heroine with a great talent - everything is in there. Readers, stay away, crappy romance inside. I so regret spending dollar on it.
Aug 08, 2010 Alyssa rated it really liked it
One of the more intriguing books I've ever read. Touchy subject matter, but what I rally liked about it was that I never could guess ahead of time where the author was going with something and something always surprised me. Definitely not predictable.
Kathleen Valentine
Jul 08, 2011 Kathleen Valentine rated it really liked it
I read this two years ago and loved it! Today for some reason I picked it up again and I can't put it down. Utterly beautiful, steeped in myth. The kind of novel that bears periodic re-reading.
Susan Gomperts
Dec 28, 2015 Susan Gomperts rated it it was ok
Shelves: donate
Started skimming about one third of the way in. This book really dragged on and on and on. An awful lot of work, I found myself thinking...Will she ever get to the point?
Jul 17, 2012 Crystal rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books. I have the audio version, and the reading, as well as the writing, is beautiful and full-bodied. This story is deeply sad, but so beautiful.
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Goodreads Librari...: Chance description in Dutch 3 24 Mar 18, 2016 02:00AM  
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Regina McBride is the author of The Nature of Water and Air, The Land of Women, and The Marriage Bed. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her poems have been widely published in literary journals and magazines, and her book of poetry, Yarrow Field, won an American Book Series Award.

She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexi
More about Regina McBride...

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“I felt afraid that the curtain between worlds was not sufficient. Air blew things in and away and water exiled its creatures onto dry land and rushed away from them. It seemed to be the nature of water and air, to be random, heartless.” 1 likes
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