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


on canaan's side coverNothing annoys me more than having a book ruined by the length of time it takes me to finish it. By rights I should have loved On Canaan’s Side. I’ve loved every other book of Sebastian Barry’s that I’ve read, and I’ve read all but one of them. Looking back on my memories of the story of Lilly Dunne, there’s nothing I find reproachable in the plot, or in the character development, though I have to say that maybe Barry lays the tragedy on a little thick this time, even for him. Nope. My lukewarm feelings about this book are all because the past few weeks have been too busy for me to get much reading done, and the times of my life when I don’t have time to read are the worst for me.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I can’t come up with anything good to say about On Canaan’s Side, but I can’t come up with anything bad other than it took me a long time to read it. But I got through the last eighty pages today with no problem (which is about a third of the book, by the way), and it’s not like the pace quickened at all. Well, my pace quickened. The book stayed the same.

The last time I talked about this book I think Lilly had run off to America with her almost husband Tadg Bere because the IRA had contracts out on them, and they ended up in Chicago, where Tadg got gunned down in a museum. Lilly makes her way to Cleveland, and then Washington, DC, and then, finally, to the Hamptons in New York. She marries a man named Joe, who “dies” in a fire. She raises their son Ed herself, and then her grandson Bill. Ed runs off to the mountains after a couple of tours in Vietnam, and Bill goes to war in Iraq (I think for Desert Storm, but the chronology is a bit off). Lilly seems destined to have men leave her, and to have no women in her life to stick with her, except her boss Mrs. Wolohan, who is a loyal person indeed, but is not the same as a family member or good friend.

I think anyone who has enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s other books, or those of Colm Tóibín, or really any male Irish writer of a certain generation, would enjoy On Canaan’s Side, and I think that if I read it again at another, less busy, time, I would probably like it at least as much as Annie Dunne, though not maybe as much as The Secret Scripture.

Next up is Voyager, the third book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I know this is going to be a long read, but I’m hoping it goes quickly. I just started watching season two of the Starz series, and I’m sort of excited to see what happens next with Claire and Jamie.


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

1 Response to Final Thoughts on Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side (by Jill)

  1. lfpbe says:

    I can’t imagine that you won’t like Voyager. I remember being annoyed at the stereotypical “Chinaman” but never bored, and the moment when Claire and Jamie reunite is magical. That was my annual use of “magical.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s