From the two-time Man Booker short-listed author of The Secret Scripture comes a magnificent new novel that is the story of the twentieth century in America.Told in the first person, as a narrative of Lilly Bere’s life over seventeen days, On Canaan’s Side opens as Lilly mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly revisits her past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland at the end of the First World War, and continues her tale in America, a world filled with both hope and danger.At once epic and intimate, Lilly’s story unfolds as she tries to make sense of the sorrows and troubles of her life and of the people whose lives she has touched. Spanning nearly seven decades, from the Great Depression to World War II and the Vietnam War, it is the heartbreaking story of a woman whose capability to love is enormous and whose compassion, even for those who have wronged her, is astonishing. Sebastian Barry’s plays have been produced in London, Dublin, Sydney, and New York. His novel A Long, Long Way was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, as was The Secret Scripture, which was also a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award and the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction, as well as the Irish Novel of the Year. Barry lives in Wicklow, Ireland, with his wife and three children.More
“On Canaan’s Side is written with vast sympathy and tenderness. Sebastian Barry’s handling of voice and cadence is masterly. His fictional universe is filled with life, quiet truth, and exquisite intimacy; it is also fully alert to the power and irony of history. In evoking Lilly Bere, he has created a most memorable character.”—(Colm Tóibín, author of the Costa Novel Award–winning Brooklyn)
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Lovely and sad
Save me from men who think women exist to serve
As I read (or more precisely, listened to) Sebastian Barry’s novel, I had trouble putting my finger on just what I didn’t like about it. I did like the form of the novel, a sort of diary written by an old woman in which she looks back at her long life. I really loved the way Barry described people, for instance, a man operating a ride at an amusement park was described as someone who “hadn’t had his ears pinned down properly.” Cassie, the protagonist’s best friend, was described as a woman who would have looked good as the figurehead on the prow of a ship.
But there was an emptiness at the heart of the novel that left me cold and toward the end I figured out what it was. Barry created a female protagonist who is an idealized, impossible, saint of a woman. She is misused by every man in her life, and yet cannot stop herself from catering to their every whim and forgiving them for every wrong. This is probably Barry’s idea of the perfect mother, someone who will not mind it when the son/grandson that she has formed her life around shuts her out, disappears, ignores and shuns her. She somehow perseveres through it all with a forgiving nature that is impossible to believe. And the ending . . . I just couldn’t buy her final decision. Why she would care that much for the grandson who seems to have treated her like a short order cook and then abandoned her is never made clear. This novel is just some man’s fantasy of how a mother, or mother figure, should give up her whole existence to nurture others with no life of her own. Girls, go read something empowering and leave this on the shelf.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by Wanda McCaddon, who did a nice job].
- Julie W. Capell "The audio books I get tend to be either 1) scifi or 2) things for my husband and me to listen to on long road trips--humor or history"