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On Canaan's Side (Dunne Family)

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  3,990 Ratings  ·  605 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
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Aug 06, 2017 rated it liked it

Though this is only my second Sebastian Barry novel I feel I can recognize his voice now. First one I read of him it was The secret scripture and, as I found out later, it was part of a cycle McNulty Family. This one in turn with other titles creates Dunne Family.

Both novels being different are alike or perhaps it was the other way round. Maybe I’ll find accurate words to review The secret scripture yet but now I focus on On Canaan’s Side. Lilly Dunne, well, let’s be exact, Lilly Dunne Kinder
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
It is the writing that makes this book special. Some lines are lyrical, for example when describing landscapes. Some are amusing, for example in dialogs. Some lines express in the most perfect words emotions, both jubilant and sad. Questions about existence and life and if one can even go on are written in words that speak to you. Well at least they did to me! Fear and loss and total aloneness, love and friendship and exuberant joy, betrayal and forgiveness are explored. This book movingly deals ...more
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started with a few quotations from Barry, to show the poetry of it all, and realized that I would end up copying most of the book . What is the point?

I read for myself, and only the vaguest of impressions become translated, eventually, into a paragraph or two on the meaning of what I've just read: a phrase, a sentence to jog the memory and bring back to mind the beauty that I just experienced; or the stone in my heart that he lodged there.

Lilly Bere's life is all of that, as she writes in her
Aug 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 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
Jan 26, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish
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
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I read a book in e-book format and I really wish I had
read it in paperback just so I can look at it on my bookshelf
from time to time and and remember how much I enjoyed it.
This is one of those books.
I enjoy Sebastian Barry's books so much.
He is such a great storyteller.
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
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
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
A. Mary
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: irish-novels
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
SheriC (Portable Magic)
I had a lot I wanted to say about this book, as I had just finished it, but then I got into a long, work-related conversation with a colleague, and now I find my brain mostly empty of thoughts where this book is concerned. That, perhaps, is a good indicator of how deeply affected I was by it. Mostly how I felt, by the end, was as though I was covered in a heavy smothering blanket of depression. Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps that was the author’s goal in writing this book. When I read “litera ...more
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How can I do justice to such a wonderfully written book?

This is the story of the life of Lilly Dunne. It is full of love, strategy and treachery. This is the first Dunne family book I have listened to but hopefully not the last.

The narration by by Grainne Gillis was stunning and added to the sense of quiet dignity of the character.
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, novels
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
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Lakis Fourouklas
Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebooks
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
Oct 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the second book I've read by Barry and I am seriously swooning. I'm staggered by his prose. He's one of the few writers I've read who can take the words of our common language, toss them up into the air & by the time they sashay back to earth Magic is Afoot. Is he bending the words to his will, transcribing celestial whispers, or maybe showing off some bad-ass alchemy? Don't know, don't care.

All I know is I may not be able to save myself for other books. Barry's writing is too beauti
Vivian Valvano
Oct 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
“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
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What can I say, I read two of Barry's books in a week, and I just want more of them. He is a poet, a genius with words. Lillly's life is full of beauty and tragedy: losses almost too much to bear.
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Deborah Biancotti
Mar 21, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish
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
Bernie Mcgill
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvellous tale told by the master storyteller Sebastian Barry. In a relatively short novel, lyrical in tone he somehow manages to convey the story of Irish immigration to American and skillfully weaves a singularly Irish tale with the experiences of multiple immigrants from the charming Mr Eugenides, Greek baker in the Hamptons, to the black, abused Cassie and the Armenian art lover who unknowingly sets the scene for Tadg"s death. But Barry"s novel goes beyond a story of poor immigran ...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
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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 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
“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” 15 likes
“What is the sound of an eighty-nine-year-old heart breaking?” 9 likes
More quotes…