Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham

In the middle of the 20th century, Ireland is a country plagued by social/political unrest. Iz, a beautiful young woman, has moved to the town of Monument to carve a new life with her husband Ronnie, and small son, Hector. Ronnie works as an auctioneer of land, and as their marriage progresses, Iz discovers he has made several devastating business deals and has been unfaithful. As Hector comes of age, he leaves Monument and joins the army. Over time, Iz's once happy life and marriage, disintegrates until Iz finds herself alone.

The second half of the book sweeps the reader into Iz's life before she married Ronnie. It is here that we really come to know and understand her. Family pressures to save their familial lands forces Iz to betroth herself to a man she does not love. All the while, her heart belongs to Frank, a man deeply involved in political subterfuge. But meddling family and friends thwart all their attempts to be together.

What makes this novel unique is the unusual way the story unfolds. The author weaves this complex story in reverse order. We learn about Iz's later life first and early life later. Like gently peeling an onion, bit by bit, the story is revealed. Although a bit perplexing at first, I found this style of storytelling helped to build suspense as the story progressed. It wasn't until the second half of the book that this tale truly gains momentum.

It took a while to initially fall into the story because the writer used dashes instead of quotation marks for dialogue and often didn't break the dialogue with new paragraphs when different characters spoke. It made for a rough start and kept me from engaging with the story in its early stages, but once I became accustomed to it, I did settle into the story.

Readers who persevere into the second half of the story will find themselves rewarded with the revelation of many secrets and a deeper understanding of Iz and the turmoil in her life. Along the way, the reader will discover beautiful descriptions of Ireland, an understanding of the country's struggles, along with some lovely prose. The ending leaves the reader haunted because of its poignancy. A unique novel about a beautiful country that has faced many hardships throughout history.
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