On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry - review by Edmund Gordon

Edmund Gordon

Tears for Beers

On Canaan’s Side


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‘I hate writing,’ claims Lilly Bere, the 89-year-old narrator of Sebastian Barry’s new novel (who is related, in one way or another, to the protagonists of each of his four previous novels). ‘I hate pens and paper and all that fussiness.’ She has only been driven to it now, she explains, by the death of her beloved grandson Billy, who has killed himself after returning shell-shocked from the first Gulf War. Nor, she maintains, is she much of a reader: ‘I will read the paper on Sunday sometimes, in a certain mood, from stem to stern. Burn through it like a growing flame. I quite like the Bible in a rarer mood.’ 

For someone with such avowedly cool feelings about the written word, Lilly doesn’t half have a taste for the lyrical. Her narrative (which recounts her life story, from her girlhood as a policeman’s daughter in prewar Sligo to her lonely old age in the Hamptons, recalling in particular

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