A novel should consist of prose & dialogue to tell a story. As pretty & flowery as the prose may be in this novel it does nothing to advance the story, rendering much of the prose, while lyrical, superfluous. Too wordy - words leading nowhere. None of the characters were properly developed to a point where you would care about them, including the narrator, Lilly Bere. I wanted so much to feel something for her, but I just could not make the connection. There wasn't enough of a person there to engage me. Simply repeating words does not make them more poignant. Pretty words strung together does not a story make. It's basically a bunch of words leading nowhere. 256 pages of words fizzling into nothingness.
Sebastian Barry's novel, "On Canaan's Side" is a beautifully written story about how love and loss follow us all through life. Changing location, setting sail and fleeing from the troubles on one shore, does not always resolve those problems. While, on the other hand, even if we have to leave a place where we have loved ones, we don't leave those bonds of love behind.
Lilly Bere looks back on her long life in the early 1990's when she receives word of her beloved grandson's suicide after returning home from the first Gulf War. Lilly, an immigrant from Ireland in the early 1920's who fled to the US with her fiance because of threats to him from members of the IRA. However, tragedy in the form of a political assassination follows Lilly and Tadg to Chicago when Tadg is gunned down in public. Lilly flees to Cleveland, where she goes into domestic service and meets the man who becomes her husband and who fathers a son with her. Her son, Ed, is born to the newly-single Lilly after her husband is reported missing and presumed dead in an accident. The rest of Lilly's life is devoted to raising her son by continuing in domestic service in the employ of a Kennedy-like family. Ed sees duty in the Vietnam War, and contributes another generation to Lilly's line with his son, who he turns over to Lilly to raise. It is this grandson's - Bill's - death who Lilly is mourning when the book opens.
Lilly Bere has lost much in her 89 years of life. Her mother died at Lilly's birth, and her beloved older brother, Willie, died in the fields of Picardy in WW1. Her father, a Dublin policeman, sends Tadg and her off to supposed safely in the United States, but, of course, Lilly loses Tadg. Sebastian Barry writes with great tenderness and tact about how the ties that bind us with one another are expandable and can remain with us even after our loved one's earthly presence has gone. "Canaan" is a relatively short book, but the wisdom contained in its pages is astounding. An excellent novel.