Early Thoughts on Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side (by Jill)


on canaan's side cover

When I started reading On Canaan’s Side a few days ago it was like slipping into a warm bed. I don’t know if that make a ton of sense, but I felt like trying to sound poetical, since Barry’s writing is that sort of writing. His stories of early twentieth century Ireland (and in the case of this novel, the United States as well) are just so beautifully written that I’m kind of sad that I only have one more of his books to read after I finish this one. I mean, listen to the first two sentences of this book. “Bill is gone. What is the sound of an eighty-nine year old heart breaking? It might not be much more than silence, and certainly a small slight sound (3).” Isn’t that nice? I mean it’s terribly sad, but beautiful, right? This time around, Barry is telling us the story of Lilly Dunne, the much younger sister of Annie Dunne, the titular character of the last Sebastian Barry book I read and blogged about. This time around, Lilly is being courted by a friend of her brother Willie’s from the war. Willie is killed in France (which we will learn all about in the novel A Long, Long Way, at some point before I move on to reading books in purgatory), and Tadg comes home to tell Willie’s family about his last days. He and Lilly are taken with each other. He gets a job as a policeman, but ends up on the wrong side of things when the Irish gain their independence, and the IRA puts him on their hit list, much like poor Eneas McNulty was. Tadg and Lilly board a ship to America, prior to being married, and find distant relations in Chicago. Before they can settle down, and before they can even get married, Tadg is gunned down in a museum, leaving Lilly alone in a country she doesn’t know, without any friends. That’s basically as far as I’ve gotten.

The novel is a frame thingy—eighty-nine year old Lilly is looking back on her life from the present day-ish, and we jump back and forth from the present to the past. In the present day story line Lilly is mourning the loss of Bill, her grandson. In the past, she has just lost her almost-husband. I guess we’ll be calling her “Poor Lilly Dunne” unless things start to look up soon.

So far, so good with this one, though I’m only eighty-five pages into it. On Canaan’s Side is not incredibly long, so I’m hopeful to get through it pretty quickly, though I don’t necessarily mind taking a while with a Sebastian Barry book. I wonder if the Dunne’s and the McNulty’s ever cross paths. I don’t think they have yet, but I’m not positive on that point. And now, I’m going to go back to watching Mockingjay Part 2, and deciding when this afternoon I’m going to torture myself with a Jillian Michaels workout. Probably soon.

This entry was posted in Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Jill, Sebastian Barry, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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