Sebastian Barry, one of Ireland’s most successful playwrights and novelists, is at his best when he is writing about those who find themselves marginalized in the new Ireland as it emerges from under the yoke of British. And in his new book, On Canaan’s Side, we once again find him dealing with characters whose lives are swept up in the changing tide of Ireland’s independence.
The narrator of this tale is eighty-nine-year-old Lilly Bere who is looking back over her life and trying to make sense of it all as she ponders the death of her grandson.
Once again, she is the child whose mother dies at her birth, the teenager whose father is a police officer at the time of the Easter Rising, and the young girl whose beloved brother Willie is at the front, a soldier in the British Army. “I had lived as a little girl and young woman through a certain kind of grievous history, where one thing is always being knocked against another thing…where the fact of my being alive was knocked against the fact that my mother had died in giving me that life. I just did not know yet what things knocked against other things here in America.”
For the first time in Barry’s works, On Canaan’s Side takes his characters across the ocean to the U.S.. It is from here that Lilly looks back over her life, and Barry shows us that he is as equally adept at writing about Depression-era America as he is about revolutionary Ireland. And, as always with Barry, the language is beautiful. I had to slow myself down to savor the way he puts words together, for he is a master craftsman. – Patricia Harty
(256 pages / Viking / $25.95)
On sale September 8