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The Night Stages: A Novel by Jane Urquhart

The Night Stages: A Novel

by Jane Urquhart

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Jane Urquhart is a great writer. She can really evoke a sense of place, and get into the feelings of her characters. This, however, is not my favourite book by her. I found it hard to relate to the main character, Tam. There were too many gaps in her story to let me really get to know her. And the interwoven story of Kenneth Lochhead, while interesting, didn't add to the main story. ( )
  LynnB | Oct 29, 2017 |
I read this for a book club, which means that I started it on the day the book club was meeting and didn't finish it in time, and perhaps if I hadn't been rushing so much I would have been able to relax and enjoy it more, or perhaps if I didn't get as far as I had I wouldn't have bothered finishing it this morning. Hard to say.

This is the second Urquhart novel I've read, and while [b:Away|383690|Away|Jane Urquhart|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1353632382s/383690.jpg|112177] was alright in retrospect, it was more for other readers than myself. Like, when I read it I was actually someone else, someone I know, reading it, because she would've liked it, and I had this weird sense not of enjoying it, but of entering into my friend's consciousness and seeing what she'd find in it, while at the same time my personal consciousness was critical.

This time around I didn't get into that friend's head, and am not sure if she'd have enjoyed it even if I had. Tam was a far from interesting character, the Kenneth anecdotes are not bad but belong somewhere else entirely, and the storytelling frames were all wrong.

And the romanticized Ireland! Man. I mean, I know I'm pretty biased because my Irish Experience came with a load of Harsh Realities, and I know she's writing about an Ireland of The Past, but I don't think it existed as she imagines it even then. It was weird, having lived in County Kerry, having been on those hills, having worked with those farmers and sheep, having known the Irish Fuck-Ups. Sometimes I saw my experiences, but most times I didn't and couldn't believe the story I was being told on account of it. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
Tamara has just completed a trans-Atlantic flight in an effort to escape an adulterous relationship and is feeling as though she has lost her bearings and doesn’t know which way to steer. She has 72 hours fogged in at the Gander airport to take stock of the arrivals and departures of her own life and figure out where she belongs in the world. As she waits for the fog to clear, the people depicted in an airport mural provide a foil for her to reflect on the times she has spent waiting or adrift in her own life back in post WW2 Ireland.

This story has numerous threads. In addition to Tamara and her lover Niall, there is the journey of the mural’s artist in Canada and Niall’s brother Kieran back in Ireland. It felt like the book was mostly Kieran’s journey, and Tamara’s story was a bit lost, perhaps in the same way she lost herself in her relationship with Niall. The story is beautifully written especially the descriptions of the landscape. At a recent reading, Jane Urquhart revealed that she spends time in this corner of Ireland and wove in local landmarks and characters. ( )
  Lindsay_W | Sep 20, 2015 |
I've spent the last ten minutes staring at this post, wondering how to start, what to say. It's like I spent the past four days reading The Night Stages in a dream, which is what the first three-hundred-and-fifty-odd pages of the book is like. It isn't a dream, but it feels like a dream. Of course, what's the one thing about other people's dreams: they are boring. I think each page of The Night Stages I read at least twice because my mind kept wandering off, and not even to interesting thoughts. Rather, I would read a sentence and think "I should really buy a new mop."

And no worries: I really did buy a new mop. My floors will be clean(-ish) soon.

We have Tamara, who was, like a character in Code Name: Verity, was in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. We have Niall and Kieran, brothers who cycle, both in love with the same woman. We have Kenneth, who painted Flight and Its Allegories at the Gander Airport, where Tamara has a stop-over while fleeing Ireland and her doomed relationship with the married Niall. In other words, we have a ninth novel with the muddle-headedness of a first novel. Tamara flew planes in World War II, so what? Niall and Tamara have an affair, so what? Kieran opens a gate for a pair of ghosts, so what? Kenneth listens to a long story about another painter, so what? We could even say Kenneth, so what? Other than Tamara looking at his mural after-the-fact, there is no connection between him and the other characters. There is all this background instead of characterization, everything shot in a blurred focus and feels a short-story run out of control, crashed like a bicycle in the Rás, which is the last fifty pages. Those fifty pages and the detailing of the Rás are heart-pounding in their intensity, as if to try and make up for the lethargy of the three-hundred-and-fifty pages that come before it. Why couldn't the whole novel be the Rás? Why couldn't the excitement of the Rás be weaved in rather than dumped at the end? The payoff for persevering comes so late.

In terms of writing, this is a ninth novel, not a first. Normally I hate description, and there's a lot of description here, but it's done so deftly, so beautifully, that it wasn't the description that bored me. The technique, if we just look at every sentence, at each page in isolation, is beautiful. This book is written, assembled, so exactly. It's just, overall, I couldn't get any fix on the characters or their necessity of being in the novel. It's like a pure technique book, all writing, story lacking. Maybe I'll feel something different after I've let it stew for awhile, but it definitely didn't endear Jane Urquhart's novels to me.

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart went on sale April 7, 2015.

I received a copy free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. ( )
1 vote reluctantm | Sep 7, 2015 |
On a flight from Ireland to New York, Tam is stranded for three days at the Gander Airport because of fog, “’fog that blinds and deafens and causes that stillness . . . followed by the kind of clarity that causes you to wince’” (229). The fog grounds her, but it is a mural in the terminal which inspires her to reflect – on her past life as an auxiliary pilot in WWII; her relationship with Niall, an emotionally remote meteorologist whom she has just left; and Niall’s search for Kieran, his missing brother. Interspersed with her reflections are vignettes of the life of Kenneth Lochhead, the artist who painted the mural, and that of Kieran after he left home.

The mural is entitled Flight and Its Allegories and a major theme in the book is that of flight: Tam’s “ridiculous joy” (118) when flying a plane and her fleeing from Niall; Kieran’s flight from his family home after a tragedy and his happiness when exploring on his bicycle, “always happiest on higher ground” so he is described as a climber “’Always heading for the sky’” (156); Niall’s withdrawals from Tam, retreats so frequent that they form a “familiar pattern” (197).

It is flight that becomes the sustaining metaphor throughout. When her job as an auxiliary pilot comes to an end after the war, Tam talks of having “lost her compass” (130) and finding herself “so essentially adrift” (254). In her relationship with Niall she realizes she has become “in every possible way, a passenger” (10) and feels she has “lost her bearings. Her instruments were lying to her. She would not be able to make her way, even with familiar territory under her, toward any kind of landing strip” (331).

The characterization of Tam is unsatisfactory. In her youth she was adventurous as evidenced by her transporting planes throughout the war. When Niall entered her life, she exchanged her “then-vivid life” for one that is “very likely uninteresting”: “The young pilot she had been then, the young woman behind the controls, would have been disdainful of what she has become: a sombre person” (10). In her thirties she acquiesces to a life with a “Lack of certainty, ambivalence, impossibility, and no hope whatsoever of resolution” (385)? Why? The mural with its exploration of “speed and stasis” (221) is perhaps a symbol of Tam’s life but, unfortunately, she also seems as flat and inert and unknowable as the figures on the mural.

I am unclear as to why Kenneth Lochhead is included as a major character. The flashbacks into his life before his painting of the mural suggest how his experiences affected his rendering, but he has no connection to Tam, Niall or Kieran. (I almost felt Lochhead was inserted because he was a friend of Urquhart’s husband.) For this reason, I take exception to Claire Messud’s assertion that Urquhart has a gift “for the melding of ideas, events and individuals into a significant whole.” I was not left with a sense of a whole.

The book, until the An Post Rás, is very slow-paced. The first 350 pages have the reader feeling as if he/she is in the night stage of the bicycle race but there is no drinking nor does it serve as “an antidote of sorts to the day’s suffering” (355). I guess Tam’s interrupted journey in Gander is a night stage of sorts with the race resuming once she makes her decision about where she will continue from Gander. Unfortunately, if the night stage is too prolonged, interest is lost in the rest of the race though, indeed, “’It’s not finished yet’” (389).

Though I have read and enjoyed most of Urquhart’s other novels, I was not as enamoured with this one. Though the language is lyrical, the novel does not feel like a cohesive unit, and parts are tedious like a long delay in a journey. I do, however, want to go and see Lochhead’s mural! ( )
1 vote Schatje | May 11, 2015 |
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As if I were the ghost of the fog - Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey into Night
For Michael Phillips,

with thanks
In memory of artist Kenneth Lochhead,

poet Michael Kirby,

and aviator Vi Milstead Warren
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There is a black-and-white photograph of Kenneth standing in sunlight beside a prairie railway station.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374222193, Hardcover)

A female pilot recalls her affair with a man obsessed with the disappearance of his brother

After a tragic accident leaves Tamara alone on the most westerly tip of Ireland, she begins an affair with a charismatic meteorologist named Niall. It’s the 1950s, and Tamara has settled into civilian life after working as an auxiliary pilot in World War II. At first her romance is filled with passionate secrecy, but when Niall’s younger brother, Kieran, disappears after a bicycle race, Niall, unable to shake the idea that he may be to blame, slowly falls into despondency. Distraught and abandoned after their decade-long relationship, Tamara decides she has no option but to leave.
     Jane Urquhart’s mesmerizing novel opens as Tamara makes her way from Ireland to New York. During a layover in Gander, Newfoundland, a fog moves in, grounding her plane and stranding her in front of the airport’s mural. As she gazes at the nutcracker-like children, missile-shaped birds, and fruit blossoms, she revisits the circumstances that brought her to Ireland and the family entanglement that has forced her into exile. Slowly she interweaves her life story with Kieran’s as she searches for the truth about Niall.
     With The Night Stages, this celebrated bestselling author has written a magnificent, elegiac novel of intersecting memories that explores the meaning of separation and reunion, the sorrows of fractured families, and the profound effect of Ireland's harshly beautiful landscape on lives lived in solitude.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:10 -0400)

"At the end of an affair, a woman pilot in World War II recalls life in a remote Irish town where her husband and his brother lost everything in a bicycle race"--

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