Ronan Mcdonnell's Reviews > On Canaan's Side

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
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M 50x66
's review
Apr 04, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: re-read

Updated thoughts on book>>>
I forgot I had read this, and found it in the house, so I started reading it. I was enthralled form the start.

I'm not sure how I forgot I read such a beguiling, simmering book. I rarely know the title of a book I'm reading and often not even the author. I read purely to interact with the text, on its own merits. SO this would not be unusual.

And yet, On Canaan's Side, is an entirely transfixing book. The interplay on history with such delicately observed characters is joyful. The sense that time must move forward, and we are not always perceptive of it advances propels the book. Wistful and sad, we see the world through the eyes of an innocent, who takes life at face value.

On re-reading I noted how Lily deals with race only retrospectively. In every case we are introduced to a character and she her relate to them, before it slips out when they are black. Its incidental to her, and yet pivotal to them. Much in the same way she looks at her own sense of Irishness.

The narrator is largely left behind, or abandoned, by anyone she feels close to. The book is very much a run through version of the twentieth century, as a time that chewed up and spat out so many. Its a wonderful, rich dense book. One I hope to read again.

Original thoughts>>>
This book thwarted me. I love Barry’s writing but was put off by the first chapters and determined not to like it. Eventually it charmed me.

I originally disliked the pretense. The narrator, an elderly partially schooled lady, tells us she never writes and within one day is walking by the ocean, “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.”

Anyway, she left Ireland as a fugitive girl with her beau to live in America. What follows is 70 years of heartbreak and happiness and the stories in between. It tells the joint stories of two closely related countries across the twentieth century. In scope, it is similar to Roddy Doyle’s Star Called Henry series. It is however, clearly the poetic voice of a frail lady.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 29, 2012 – Finished Reading
April 4, 2012 – Shelved
February 20, 2018 – Shelved as: re-read

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