Tuesday, September 06, 2011

a bit on the side

In On Canaan’s Side we find ourselves at the mercy of another confessional novel.  Lilly’s days (and chapters) may be ordered and consecutive but her memories roam far and wide.  Always a comforting travelling companion, she leads safely us through time as well as across the miles. 

‘To remember sometimes is a great sorrow, but when the remembering has been done, there comes afterwards a very curious peacefulness.  Because you have planted your flag on the summit of sorrow.  You have climbed it.’

From her childhood and her subsequent escape to America, her early days there as troubled as those she left behind.  The usual wide-eyed wonder (‘How were there ladders long enough to get bricks up so high?’) balanced by the later perspective of someone who has seen many years of life pass them by (‘Tears have a better character cried alone.’). Powerful set pieces (like the rollercoaster scene) are peppered with little details about her day-to-day life, visitors and doctors appointments.

Sebastian Barry addresses issues many of us will face, the real stuff of human life, but always manages to spotlight them in striking and poetic ways.  And it is his character creation that enables him to do this – in the process challenging my assumptions about spending so much time in the narrative company of a little old lady.  That she could be holding such a story, such truth, at times so brutal never ceased to amaze me.  I’m glad I’ve bumped into Barry again (we first met a few Bookers back), and through him Lilly – I hope others do too.

No comments: