‘Can you imagine how that would be? If a tree is starving, its neighbours will send it food. No one really knows how this can be, but it is. Nutrients will travel in the tunnel made of fungus from the roots of a healthy tree to its starving neighbour, even one of a different species. Trees live, like you and me , long lives, and they know things. They know the rule, the only one that’s real and must be kept. What’s the rule? You know. I’ve told you lots of times before. Be kind.’
From a Low and Quiet Sea is Donal Ryan’s most expansive book to date, partially set in Syria and
partially in the familiar territory of rural Ireland.
Farouk’s country has been torn apart by war.
Lampy’s heart has been laid waste by Chloe.
John’s past torments him as he nears his end.
The refugee. The dreamer. The penitent. From war-torn Syria to small-town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.
It's my honour to be hosting the final stop of the blog tour for From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan today. My grateful thanks to the author, publishers and Anne Cater for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.
From a Low and Quiet Sea takes the stories of three very different men and allows each of them to be told individually before finally connecting them touchingly together. Although not a long novel, I was swallowed up by its richly immersive prose for a few hours, lost to all but the lives of Farouk, Lampy and John.
The first part of the book is told is set in Syria and follows Farouk, a doctor who is persuaded by a people smuggler that the only way to keep his wife and family safe is to pay to flee the country. Lyrically told in the third person, this is a harrowing account of the human costs of war. The writing here is powerfully beautiful, evoking both a sense of anger and melancholy at the brutality and hopelessness of lives torn apart by violence. As Warsan Shire says in her poem, Home; "No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark," and Farouk knows he has little choice but to try to escape the closing jaws. He is a man tormented by bitterness and guilt who still clings to hope and it's this that makes his story so affecting.
Lampy's story is more familiar. He's a young man who didn't quite get the grades he needed for college and is slowly stagnating, trapped by the love of his family. If Farouk's story is one of leaving, then it's juxtaposed perfectly by Lampy's static existence. He once had the chance to move to Canada but the emotional bribery of his family, particularly his grandfather, meant he never left and now drives a bus for a retirement home. Lampy first became aware that life is unfair at school, on the day he was called a bastard for not having a father. For a short time he fell madly in love but teenage love affairs end as they do and now he has to decide whether to settle for the nice girl and the safe life.The thought of making decisions like this make him want to drive the retirement bus too fast around corners so that he loses control but what could be a bleak character study is lifted by the wit of Donal Ryan's writing here. The claustrophobia of small town Ireland is told through disarming humour, from the funny but cruel jokes of Dixie, Lampy's grandfather to the colourful array of residents of the retirement home, there's a bittersweet feel to this part of From a Low and Quiet Sea.
Lampy and Dixie may use humour to cope with their anger and frustration but in the third part of the book we discover that John became twisted by the tragedy that occurred in his childhood. Now an older man, we hear him seek penitence for the crimes he has committed. John is the hardest character to like; his life has been marked with acts that have been cynically calculating or cruel. However, as he says his prayers at the end of his life we learn that he felt cheated of love, first from his parents - and particularly his father, then from the woman he fell over over heels for.
The stories of the three men eventually come together in the tragic conclusion of From a Low and Quiet Sea, each of them brought to the same place through their earlier actions. They are men linked only perhaps briefly in life but their stories are all connected by anger, fear and love. The importance of fatherhood is also sensitively explored; whether through Farouk's memories of his own loving father and his desire to protect his daughter; in Lampy's relationship with his grandfather, having never known his father or through John's sense of rejection by a father lost to sorrow. During Farouk's part of the book, his wife tells their daughter a sad fable that makes her cry but her mother explains that its moral is how useless it is to blame others for things not being as we'd like them to be. Perhaps as it says in the passage at the top, we are all connected and so the most important thing is to be kind. This raw, honest and poetically beautiful novel will stay with me for a long time; it is an unforgettable look at fate and choice and one that I thoroughly recommend.
From a Low and Quiet Sea is published by Doubleday/Transworld and can be purchased here.
Don't forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour, details are below.
About the Author
Donal Ryan is from Nenagh in County Tipperary. His first three novels, The Spinning Heart, The Thing About December and All We Shall Know, and his short story collection A Slanting of the Sun, have all been published to major acclaim. The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book Award, the EU Prize for Literature (Ireland), and Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards; it was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize, and was recently voted ‘Irish Book of the Decade’. His fourth novel, From a Low and Quiet Sea, will be published in March 2018. A former civil servant, Donal lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. He lives with his wife Anne Marie and their two children just outside Limerick City.