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From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

From a Low and Quiet Sea (2018)

by Donal Ryan

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11915149,515 (3.84)42



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Just when you think maybe you've read too many things, and that originality is impossible now, except when the author is being ridiculously experimental just for the sake of it, along comes Donal Ryan, and shows you that literary artistry in the cause of a good story isn't finished at all, at all.

[From a Low and Quiet Sea] is a short novel in 4 parts...each of the first three tells the story of a man trying to come to terms with his circumstances or his past, and each would make a worthy novella on its own. A Syrian doctor, desperate to save his family from religious hatred, takes a risk to get them out of their homeland. A fatherless young Irish man whose girl has left him flounders about, uncertain what to do with his life while his grandfather hides a deep love for the boy behind bluster and bar stories. A man with no future left looks back on his less-than-admirable life, and seeks absolution. Three fine stories...but wait...the blurbs say "cleverly constructed", the blurbs say "unpredictable", the blurbs suggest there will be a connection among them. Aye, and it's brilliant, that fourth part. I want to read it all over again. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Feb 1, 2019 |
Just lovely. ( )
  ParadisePorch | Jan 15, 2019 |
This novel appeared on the Booker longlist and the Costa shortlist so I decided it was time to read this Irish writer.

There are four parts to this short novel. In the first part, Farouk, a Syrian doctor, is planning an escape for his family once his town is overrun by Muslim fundamentalists. In the second part, Lampy, a 23-year-old, lives near Limerick, Ireland, with his unmarried mother and his grandfather. He works in a care home driving seniors to appointments. In Part Three, John, an elderly, repentant criminal, makes his confession. He speaks of his often violent life which seemed focused on breaking all the Commandments. In the last section, the three characters are brought together and their lives shown to be linked.

The men are from different backgrounds and have different lifestyles, but all are tortured souls who have experienced loss. Farouk must leave his home country where he has a fulfilling life with his wife and daughter. His escape to the West results in even more loss. Lampy is heart-broken because his girlfriend has left him and he has no real sense of what he should do in life. The fact that he is illegitimate and has never known his father haunts him. John’s life was lived in the shadow of a brother’s death, and when he fell in love, the relationship did not last and he committed his greatest sin as a result.

The theme of the novel is outlined at the beginning when Farouk remembers lessons his father taught him about “the oneness of all people and all things.” In many ways, we are the same: everyone has hopes and dreams and everyone suffers loss and heartbreak. People need to take time “to listen, to observe, to do your best to hear beyond the spoken, to see the quality of the light in another’s eyes.” And because we are all connected, there’s “only one [rule] that’s real and must be kept. . . . Be kind.” This rule that Farouk teaches his daughter is repeated by Lampy’s mother: “All you have to do is be kind and you’ll have lived a good life.”

The characterization is amazing. The book is short and so each character has the spotlight for only a brief time, yet each of the three men emerges as unique and fully developed. Farouk’s father told his son that “there are men alive who will do evil without pause, who are without mercy, and there are men alive who would rather die than harm another, and all of the rest of us fall somewhere in between” and “if you observe a man closely and properly you’ll eventually come to know the shade of his soul.” The author shows the shades of his protagonists’ souls. Each has both good and bad qualities. Farouk is a good man but he has a sense of superiority and even wonders whether doing as the militants demand would be so bad. Lampy has anger management issues, but he is very caring. Even the unscrupulous John is capable of love, and he makes a sincere contrition.

I have not read any of Donal Ryan’s other books, but I will certainly be checking them out. Though there is profane language and earthy humour in the novel, at the end the reader may feel he/she has had a spiritual experience because the book presents such empathetic portraits of three men trying to find peace.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Jan 2, 2019 |
3.5 stars

Ryan is an excellent writer and is very good at capturing his characters in surprisingly few pages. And he does that here--his characters are all a bit lost, in different ways, and he captures all of that.

Somehow though, having the stories all pull together in about 10 pages just didn't quite do it for me. It was too quick, especially with several of those pages featuring just one paragraph. What HAPPENS? What are the ramifications? (Spoiler removed, has spoiler tag in my goodreads review.)

Sometimes writing that is quite spare can be too spare, and I think this novel falls there.
  Dreesie | Nov 29, 2018 |
Oh, I thought this was such a snooze that when it didn't make the Booker shortlist, I almost dropped it. It's way lyrical blah blah blah but honestly, I found the characters so unsingular that I ultimately really didn't give a hoot, especially about Farouk, who was more of a stand-in for a migrant character than somebody real. And the women - paper dolls have more dimension.

It's very earnest and means well. Just didn't do it for me. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Sep 21, 2018 |
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To my dear sister Mary, my first friend, with love
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