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Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry
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Annie Dunne (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Sebastian Barry (Author)

Series: Dunne Family (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3261863,720 (3.83)55
Annie Dunne and her cousin Sarah live and work on a small farm in a remote and beautiful part of Wicklow in late 1950s Ireland. All about them the old green roads are being tarred, cars are being purchased, a way of life is about to disappear. Like two old rooks, they hold to their hill in Kelsha, cherishing everything. When Annie's nephew and his wife are set to go to London to find work, their two small children, a little boy and his older sister, are brought down to spend the summer with their grand-aunt. It is a strange chance of happiness for Annie. Against that happiness moves the figure of Billy Kerr, with his ambiguous attentions to Sarah, threatening to drive Annie from her last niche of safety in the world. The world of childish innocence also proves sometimes darkened and puzzling to her, and she struggles to find clear ground, clear light - to preserve her sense of love and place against these subtle forces of disquiet. A summer of adventure, pain, delight and ultimately epiphany unfolds for both the children and their elderly caretakers in this poignant and exquisitely told story of innocence, loss and reconciliation.… (more)
Member:marita_p
Title:Annie Dunne
Authors:Sebastian Barry (Author)
Info:Penguin Books (2003), Edition: Reissue, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:UK and Ireland

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Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry (2002)

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» See also 55 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Not too long ago I read (and wrote a review) for Sebastian Barry’s A Long, Long Way. It was an exquisite little novel, one of the most powerful stories I have ever read about World War I. Then I stumbled up another magnificent Barry novel, Annie Dunne.
Annie’s story is a sequel, of sorts, to A Long, Long Way. I, however, did not make the connection to halfway through the story. So I won’t spoil it and tell you what the connection is, you’ll have to read it to discover it.
It’s 1959 in Kelsha, County Wicklow, Ireland. Annie has been relocated to the country from Dublin, forced out of her home when her dead sister’s husband wanted to remarry. Now she lives with her cousin, Sarah, in a small cottage on Sarah’s small farm. The cottage is so small that the women must share a bed. Both are in their sixties, I’m thinking late sixties, and have never married. The work is back-breaking, but both are used to such labors. Annie considers Sarah long in the face, while Annie is also plain and afflicted with a humpback as a result of a childhood bout with polio.
Annie has always been grateful for Sarah taking her in, and she’ll do anything not be on the verge of homelessness again. When Annie’s nephew, Trevor, asks them to watch his two children over the summer, Annie and Sarah agree. They aren’t used to the chaos a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy bring to their quiet lives, but both relish in playing mother.
Troubles are brewing for Annie. First a there’s the scheming handyman, Billy Kerr, who starts sniffing around Sarah. Annie is terrified that Sarah will marry him, thus leaving her homeless once again. Then Annie catches the children performing a bizarre, to Annie, sexual act. She doesn’t know what to do or say about this and worries about it constantly.
I found it quite interesting that the scheming handyman Billy Kerr also has the same name as Sarah’s donkey. Also, neither of the children’s names are ever mentioned. The simply referred as the boy and the girl.
Barry has a gift for image and metaphor. The prose is compact and beautiful. I’ve been telling my reader friends that Annie Dunne is pure poetry. I give this book five out of five stars. ( )
  juliecracchiolo | Jan 19, 2018 |
Annie Dunne is a character I will long remember. One of three girls born into an Irish family, Annie suffers from a humped back at a time when this makes her unwanted for marriage. Annie's back is a source of pity, spite, or ridicule. As a grown woman she basically raises the sons of her sister, Maude, who has some undescribed illness and dies early. Secretly having feelings for her brother-in-law, she is abruptly told to leave the house when he decides to remarry. Having no place to go, she writes several cousins. Sarah, also unmarried, replies that Annie can come and live with her and help at a very remote homestead. Annie brings some chicken with her as a sort of dowry.

Trevor, one of Annie's nephews, must leave for a while and entrusts his children, an unnamed boy and girl, to Annie and Sarah. Annie loves her position as caretaker and loves the children, especially the boy, deeply. But life isn't ideal. Billy Kerr, a local workman, begins to take an interest in Sarah and Annie is bitter toward him as she is afraid. Upon seeing an unbelievable sexual act between the sister and brother, Annie's life is further tormented. Does she talk to them about it? Tell someone?

As the time goes on, she wavers from deep love to anger at the children and the boy especially acts out, at one time almost killing one of the beloved chickens. Annie's relationship with Billy further disintegrates as he threatens her. But as Trevor returns to get the children, Annie has made a sort of peace with herself and others.

An especially well-written book; the description so vividly paints a picture of turf fires, wet grass, and Irish air. Annie is such a complex, sad, yet in many ways admirable character. Beautiful story. ( )
  maryreinert | Mar 21, 2017 |
The New York Times said this about “Annie Dunne” – “Annie’s passionate observations and shifting moods – rendered in dense prose that’s close to poetry – fuel this fine novel.” I couldn’t have summarized this book any more succinctly. At times, the dens prose is deterring. The ups and downs of Annie’s emotions roller-coaster across her circumstances like the hillsides of Ireland. If you are not interested in the immense depth of a character, this is not the book to read.

“Annie Dunne” is about Annie, spoken from the voice of Annie, entirely from her perspective. She is a 60-year-old, never-married woman, living with her cousin Sarah, in 1959 Wicklow Ireland. Life has not been kind to her, having contracted polio in her youth leaving her with a humped back. Her mom died young, her sisters teased her mercilessly, her brother died in a war, her father was the top police chief whom she admired greatly but he too faded into the darkness of dementia. Her brother-in-law kicked her out when her sister died, despite her having raised their children due to the sister’s illness leaving her on the verge of homelessness until Sarah invited her in. And now the local handyman is eyeing Sarah’s small farm and is proposing marriage. What will become of Annie? Her situation is further complicated as her 4 and 6 yr old grand-nephew, niece are in her care while their parents seek a better fortune in London.

Sebastian Barry authored a very credible aging woman who has her fair share of gratefulness, bitterness, pragmatism, kindness, self-pity, pettiness, and a long memory of an era past. She is generous and thoughtful in one moment, rage-filled in another, closing with loathing and regret (reference: toy truck). Her humped back is part of her identity – “a wounded creature among the complete”. It’s a physical wound that enveloped her while her family, as well as their lost fortunes/status, dragged on her mind. She is imperfect, as anyone should be. She is the “generous, bitter arms of a crab-apple tree”; it’s a pretty damn good description. Descriptions of a simpler way of life add a rustic charm: butter churning, killing a hen, making sausages from actual pig intestine. Light on plot, deep in character, it’s an optional though viable read.

Some quotes:
On aging:
“He was so full of sorrow. He was hurt in himself, wounded, deep, deep, down deep. For forty years he rose up through the ranks, keeping the peace, guarding, watching. Then everything he knew was burned and razed. It burned and razed the odd house of his mind. Never the same, never the same.”

A wounded child:
“So wrongdoers against children should not imagine their crimes are forgiven, just because the child heals quickly before their eyes. The wound seeps down like a drowned person. Many years later it will bob up again to the surface, frighting the districts all about. This I know, this is my caution.”

A wounded woman or self-preservation – you decide (note the contrast to above too):
“What pleasantry, what ease. I hate this man. If I could kill him quietly, I think I would. I would like to cleave his breastbone with a slash hook, now slash hooks are the topic, and reach into his ribs and put my fingers round vigorous heart, and tear it from what tethers it.”

On tears – I know these tears well:
“Now big, difficult boyhood tears tear from him. He is heaving painfully, his breath robbed each time he cries out, then a gap, a silence, and the hot ferocious tears. His chest shakes with the effort to cry, to breathe. The ice is loosed on the little hill of himself, and now down it cascades in riverlets and becks.” ( )
  varwenea | Jan 14, 2017 |
Annie Dunne and her cousin Sarah Cullen are two 60 -ish " spinsters' living in a small isolated rural area of Ireland in the late 1950's. Annie has lost a place to live , due to the death of her sister. Sarah offers to take in at her small farm. Not many options are open to older unmarried women in this place and time.

The story is told through Annie's eyes and her bitter -sweet musings. It is a very introspective novel where very little happens. Annie and Sarah's world is shaken up one summer as they take in Annie's young great grandnephew and grandniece. Meanwhile , a local man in his late 40's begins to court Sarah - or is it the farm - threatening Annie's place on the farm.

Annie compares herself to a cranberry tree " Now in the dark shales of the night it stands with its generous, bitter arms. This is the happiness allowed to me.' p 43

Annie reflecting on her life " Oh, what a mix of things the world is, what a flood of cream, turning and turning in the butter churn of things, but that never comes to butter.' p. 99

A slow but beautifully told wee bit of a story. Sebastian Barry has found a new fan.

Highly recommended . 4.2 stars. ( )
3 vote vancouverdeb | Jan 30, 2016 |
Wonderful writing! ( )
  Rosareads | Sep 16, 2015 |
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Oh, Kelsha is a distant place, over the mountains from everywhere.
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Annie Dunne and her cousin Sarah live and work on a small farm in a remote and beautiful part of Wicklow in late 1950s Ireland. All about them the old green roads are being tarred, cars are being purchased, a way of life is about to disappear. Like two old rooks, they hold to their hill in Kelsha, cherishing everything. When Annie's nephew and his wife are set to go to London to find work, their two small children, a little boy and his older sister, are brought down to spend the summer with their grand-aunt. It is a strange chance of happiness for Annie. Against that happiness moves the figure of Billy Kerr, with his ambiguous attentions to Sarah, threatening to drive Annie from her last niche of safety in the world. The world of childish innocence also proves sometimes darkened and puzzling to her, and she struggles to find clear ground, clear light - to preserve her sense of love and place against these subtle forces of disquiet. A summer of adventure, pain, delight and ultimately epiphany unfolds for both the children and their elderly caretakers in this poignant and exquisitely told story of innocence, loss and reconciliation.

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