A tragic and absurd narrative that verges on the point of parody

2011-11-16 00:00

THIS is a beautifully written book. It’s also not a very good one.

Sebastian Barry has been twice nominated for the Booker, for A Long, Long Way and The Secret Scripture, the­ ­latter winning several other awards, including the 2008 Costa Book of the Year. With On Canaan’s Side, he appears to have attempted the Great Irish Misery Novel. “A measure of tragedy is stitched into everything, if you follow the thread long enough,” remarks the narrator, 89-year-old Lilly Bere, at one point. There is far more than a measure here.

Lilly tells her story in flashback while mourning the suicide of her grandson following his return from the first Iraq War. Wars and rumours of wars prove to be the connecting thread of her life: her brother Willie is killed in World War 1 while she and her Black and Tan policeman fiancé flee to the United States — ‘On Canaan’s Side’ — after being targetted with a death warrant by the IRA. Tragedy soon tracks them down to the promised land and as the century progresses, various friends and relatives come to violent ends. As tragedy follows tragedy (added to coincidences and chance meetings that would make even John Buchan blush), Barry’s novel veers dangerously close to parody.

While there’s no doubting the lyrical, poetic images Barry conjures up via Lilly’s lilting Irish voice, there’s also no avoiding the absurdity of the narrative.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.