“I would happily read Sebastian Barry’s shopping list and probably write a review of it! He has the gift of finding insight in the trivia of everyday life, the core truths that make each of our lives unique and precious. The post-its littering the pages of my copy of On Canaan’s Side prove my point.
The novel once again visits the Dunne family first met in the 1990 play, The Steward of Christendom, and again in the novels Annie Dunne and A Long Long Way. His award-winning novel The Secret Scripture was Queen Anne Books’ Book Club Book of the Year, and I was struck by the similarities between that novel and this latest. Both are first-person narratives of self-proclaimed Irish crones nearing the ends of their lives who decide to write down their long and often mournful stories (they are Irish, after all).
First Day Without Bill (Chapter 1) begins: ‘Bill is gone. What is the sound of an eighty-nine-year-old heart breaking? It might not be much more than silence, and certainly a small slight sound.’ Bill was Lilly Dunne Bere’s beloved grandson who, after returning from the first Gulf War, commits suicide. Lilly then takes sixteen more chapters to recount the joys and sorrows of her long and rich life, hoping to understand why she is still alive when Bill is gone . . . I found myself hoping, through the story, that she would find a reason to live. An extraordinary novel.—Patti, Queen Anne Books, Seattle. Buy On Canaan’s Side from Queen Anne Books.