Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023. In his beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite what it seems, Sebastian Barry explores what we live through, what we live with, and what may survive of us
Recently retired policeman Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian Castle overlooking the Irish Sea. For months he has barely seen a soul, catching only glimpses of his eccentric landlord and a nervous young mother who has moved in next door.
Occasionally, fond memories of the past return - of his family, his beloved wife June and their two children. But when two former colleagues turn up at his door with questions about a decades-old case, one which Tom never quite came to terms with, he finds himself pulled into the darkest currents of his past.
Barry brilliantly evokes the distorting effect of trauma on memory as we enter an easy companionship with his gentle, funny protagonist. Both the legacy of historic child abuse in Ireland and the enduring power of love are sensitively explored in this compassionate and quietly furious book
I try to set aside a year just for reading and dreaming – that peculiar dreaming of writers. Then a year to write the book, and then a year to reconsider, edit, make raids on the text as it were. Like Billy the Kid. Pat Garrett would be the doubts and worries (quite important, if dangerous). I wait for the book essentially and once it starts, I try to give it its head, as judiciously as possible, hoping it won’t go and gallop off a cliff.
I write in what was once the rector’s study in an old rectory. It was also called the Bee Room, because gear for bee-keeping was kept in there. It has a good small stove, bookcases made by a genius carpenter I know (who accidentally gave me the title for this book), and since we came here it was been twice painted by me on the stern orders of my wife, Ali. The curtains have pineapples on them for some reason. An old post-office desk has seen everything written on it since 1986. Outside is Ali’s brilliant planting in the garden, but I face the wall to work.
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