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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  5,838 ratings  ·  319 reviews
A stunning, evocative novel set in Ireland and Canada, Away traces a family’s complex and layered past. The narrative unfolds with shimmering clarity, and takes us from the harsh northern Irish coast in the 1840s to the quarantine stations at Grosse Isle and the barely hospitable land of the Canadian Shield; from the flourishing town of Port Hope to the flooded streets of ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 1st 1997 by Emblem Editions (first published 1993)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,838 ratings  ·  319 reviews

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Jan 09, 2010 added it
Not a bad novel but in the end, I got annoyed with how she wouldn't write a simple sentence. No kettles boil; it's always symphonies of misty steam, swirling and dancing, up, past the kitchen window, obscuring her view like the hot version of the frost on this January morning, reminding her of the way the sprites danced, also elusive to view, also form-changing, also obstructing the clarity of sight, but of the mind's sight instead of the eye's. Beautiful for awhile, but bloody annoying soon eno ...more
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Speaking as a Canadian of mixed heritage, it's always a bit annoying when our official policy of Multiculturalism forces us to answer the question, "What's your nationality?" Many times over their school years, my kids were told to bring in a dish from or write a report on their nation of origin, and as my husband is also of mixed heritage, there's something rather pointless, to me, about them self-identifying as any single one of the many cultures that went into their makeup. After I don't even ...more
April Kennedy
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
An evocative story. I loved how Irish mythology was weaved into Canadian history.
Jul 03, 2016 rated it liked it
As the opening line suggests, this is a story about women, four generations of them, and their migratory journey from Ireland to Canada. These are mystical women, in touch with the spiritual world, whose men appear in mirages, out of the water or while converting their sorrows into dance. Water is another key player in the novel, whether it be the sea surrounding Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland or the lakes of Ontario, for water circumscribes worlds, separating them from others that are “away ...more
3.5 stars.

This is an intriguing, well-written historical novel. My knowledge of Canadian history is practically nil, so I wasn't even aware that there were so many Irish potato famine victims in Canada struggling for survival during the time of the US Civil War (It turns out, history happened elsewhere, too).

The title takes on a double meaning. As Urquhart's story opens, we meet Mary, a very young woman living on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, who has the traumatizing experience of
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would say this is Jane Urquhart at her best, but then I say that about every one of her books. This is also a book I re-read every couple of years when I want to center myself -- a book where my point of convergence places me firmly in time, and out of time. There is something that is sheer poetry about every word she writes. This one in particular, feels like reading a lovely, elegiac poem to Canada, and to Ireland.

Through Urquhart's poetic vision we are introduced to 4 generations of Irish,
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read_in_english
The women in this book are so vague and poetic and otherworldly and romantic that by the end I couldn't stand it anymore. I thought I'd like it at first, but it was just too much with the "awayness ". It doesn't help that everything they say is gibberish either. ...more
Sep 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am often caught between giving 3 or 4 stars to a book, and wish half stars were an option. In my universe (pun intended) 5 stars is reserved for books that are not only well written and creative but that catch me up emotionally and transport me someplace else while I'm immersed in them. 4 stars are for books that are almost there -- I usually appreciate the writing but don't feel connected enough into the book's world. Three stars are for books that are above average in terms of writing but ba ...more
Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book felt like a book you would be forced to read in high school - a Canadian high school specifically. It was somewhat engaging but about halfway through I was nearing boredom. The beginning was very interesting with the hint of the supernatural, but the whole fact that Mary's "away-ness" permeated the text made it lose realism for me and made me scoff at times. The parts I liked were about the men; they were so level-headed and interesting whereas the women were flighty and powerless - I ...more
Lianne Burwell
Away is the second of the Canada Reads 2013 books to arrive from the library, and after being somewhat disappointed by Lisa Moore's February, I was a little worried when I cracked this one open.

I needn't have worried. This book sucked me in from the first page. On the one had we have Esther, an elderly woman living on the edge of the Great Lakes in a home that is apparently going to be overrun by an expanding quarry. And at the same time, we have the story of her great-grandmother, Mary, who cha
A saga featuring four generations of women, this illuminates the distress of the Irish peasantry during the 1840s Potato Famine and their settlement in Canada and political activism (Fenianism) in the two decades that followed. That summary may sound dry, but the novel is anything but dull thanks to its focus on a few intriguing characters and their stories.

I was enraptured from the very first line: “The women of this family leaned towards extremes” – starting with Mary, who falls in love with a
Lindahobbs64 Hobbs
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If you’ve ever been haunted by the memory of an unrequited crush – you’ve been “away.” Obviously, Urquhart draws this out into a splendid family saga, but I found myself able to relate to the sentiment, and that’s what kept me reading. I know that haunted feeling. I’ve gazed out the window, as these characters did, hoping to catch a glimpse of that object of desire that never comes. I know that electric shock from the simple brush of a hand in passing, a shock you foolishly cherish and never for ...more
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lyrical does not begin to describe Urquhart's writing. There were so many passages that I reread to truly appreciate their beauty that you could say I read this book one and a half times. She has a way of creating a scene that entirely surrounds you, all of the senses are involved, such that the novel stays with you long after you set it down. Remarkable. Captivating. I am not doing it justice. Read it. You'll see. ...more
Joann Mccann
I loved this book and liked the symmetry between Celtic beliefs and Aboriginal spirituality.
Heidi Maxwell
Dec 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Jane Urquhart has such a way with words. A very interesting book about the potato famine and immigration to Canada. Lead me to read The Stonecarvers.
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book was well-written with lyrical prose that was beautiful at points, but I found the plot lacking, and that it often focused on characters and events I was less interested in. In addition, I struggle to connect to books with elements of magical/mystical realism, and found that it took me out of the story.
Apr 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
Ug. Let me start by saying that I really loved Jane Urquhart's The Stone Carvers. So when I was browsing recently for something short to read (in English, not exactly easy in my neighborhood), I came across a few of her other novels. This is the story of Irish immigrants who move to Canada during the famine. Haunting and lyrical! Sounds great! I'm game!
But once you add in the magical realism aspect of "away", I got lost. Not just lost, but annoyed. And because so much time is spent on the concep
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the historical backdrop both in Ireland and Canada. The introduction of the landlords was wonderful and added a lightness to what was otherwise potentially very dark. Especially since they were so oblivious and blind.

The away bits were believable for me if you compare them to depression - which I have been told feels like you are away from yourself, your family and your surroundings. An interesting take and makes the whole story believable.

Wonderfully written
Harry Maier
Aug 14, 2013 rated it did not like it
What to say about this book other than, Oh dear. This book seriously annoyed me. It piles up stereotype upon stereotype as it traces the four generations of an Irish family from the period of the Great Potato Famine through to settlement in Canada and ending in contemporary SW Ontario on the family homestead. We know these Irish: they are mystics, poets, alcoholics, bad tempered, skinflints, political agitators, lord-of-the-dancers, etc etc etc. We also know this Canada they settle: bad winters, ...more
Chrystal Unruh
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
I did not really enjoy reading this book, mainly because it’s not a genre I like, but I do recognize and appreciate that she wrote it well. I found it to be slow, and had a hard time connecting with the female characters. I preferred Liam’s POV and liked learning more about the history of the Irish who came to Canada and their early years here.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian, 2013-books
for me, the strength of this novel was in the middle section of the story. during this part, i was fully engaged and fell into the flow of the writing. the first and final thirds of the book, though, were just so-so for me. too many times during these sections i felt like ideas were being floated at the reader or moments of 'aren't i clever?' (through the use of language or how certain sentences were structured) were happening and it distracted me. i also didn't really feel there was a good flow ...more
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nancy by:
This book was given to me by my French professor because of it's connection to Grosse-Ile, which I toured while in Quebec. It began interestingly enough with a view of life during the potato famine in Ireland, something my own Irish ancestors endured. Beyond that, I found the book a struggle to finish. One of the reviewers said it felt like a book you were required to read for a class and I couldn't agree more. The author writes in an extremely descriptive manner which is beautiful, but it's def ...more
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I had forgotten how lovely this book was. I read it awhile ago, but decided to reread it when I saw it was a finalist for Canada Reads.. The language in this book is mesmerizing and you can feel the emotions of each character weighted in the words used to construct this book. There is constant reference to the poetry in the souls of the Irish people and that poetry is reflected in the style of the novel itself. I also love how Urqhart weaves the narratives of multiple generations together, but a ...more
I love Urquhart’s writing. Most of this book was captivating. The last section of the book, Eileen’s “away” time, just didn’t work for me. While being enchanted by a mysterious dead stranger had a mystical quality (in Mary’s case), Eileen being obsessed with a living person was just unappealing. Also, I didn’t care for Aidan, and his dancing. I did, ultimately, like his political viewpoint though. I appreciated the character of Liam, a pragmatic down to earth soul, born into a family of otherwor ...more
Literary Multitudes
This was great! I truly loved reading this book.
It was my first book by Jane Urquhart and I wasn't sure what to expect. But I really loved it. The words and the world, the images, everything. This is what makes reading so great. I just had the best reading experience.
While this was definitely not magical realism, it did have a certain kind of magical realism vibe to it - and I loved it. Jane Urquhart wonderfully managed to say little, but make parts of the story feel fairy-tale-like, while act
Anubha Mehta
Away has stayed in my mind.
For a long time.
Every time I visited Northern Ontario I thought about a life of settlers in the Canadian Shield. I found myself comparing my life, many decades later, still in a bucket of a settler.
One of the implicit ways in which I learned to love Canada was by spending long endless summer nights under the Algonquin sky.
When I started writing my novel, Peacock In the Snow, I could easily relate to the tranquility and ferocity of nature, the pain of isolation and
Ruth Seeley
Sep 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this when it first came out in paperback and I loved it. In fact, I think it may well be time for a reread (oh, who am I kidding, when will I have time to reread all the wonderful books I've read). It may have been one of my first experiences with the new breed of historical fiction though (until this point I'd been reading classics and then, when I finally graduated from university, highly contemporary novels - I was desperate for contemporary lit by the time I graduated). ...more
Jan 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, canada-reads
I enjoyed this book more than two of the other Canada Reads books so this is 2/4 so far. I have one more to go before I can make my final choice for the winner! This book was well written and interesting although it did tend to get a bit wordy in parts. I was lost a few times about who the characters were and why they were there but overall it was a good read. Does not make me want to run out and read another Urquhart book though.
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this immediately after "No Country," both books on the topic of Irish emigration during the famine years, and "Away" drew me in from the first, whereas "No Country" left me cold. "Away" had just the right touch of spiritualism (ok, maybe that went overboard occasionally); the characters were more deeply detailed and the writing was beautiful. I'll be reading "The great hunger: Ireland 1845-1849" next. ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Another novel to file under "I like it...but it's so frustrating!" There is a beautiful, lyrical quality to this novel...but at times, the pacing goes from lyrical to languid to "hurry up and get a move on". This improves enormously once the setting shifts from Ireland to colonial Canada, but even then, slow downs in pace occur just as I've become fully engaged with the plot and the characters. A lovely melancholy tale, but one that makes me want to tear my hair out on too many occasions. ...more
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She is the author of seven internationally acclaimed novels entitled, The Whirlpool, Changing Heaven, Away, The Underpainter, The Stone Carvers, A Map of Glass, and Sanctuary Line.

The Whirlpool received the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book Award). Away was winner of the Trillium Book Award and a finalist for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The Un

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“Old Eileen leaned forward in her chair, thrusting her face closer to the child who had been gradually approaching her. "Where is the centre of the world?" she abruptly demanded. Esther stood silently in front of her, holding onto a book she had forgotten to put on a table. She did not know the answer to the riddle. "The place where you stand," Old Eileen said. The place where you stand is the centre of the world.” 1 likes
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