the low down on new books

The Sea and the Silence

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Peter Cunningham. 254 p. Published April 7, 2010 by GemmaMedia.  Electronic copy provided courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction

Short Bio: The story of Ismay Seston is told amid the tumultuous context of newly independent Ireland, grappling with the dilemmas of class conflict and World War II.  The second half of her life is told first, and the book concludes with a short account of her life before marrying a fellow Anglo-Irish gentry whose family estate was also stripped by the Land Commission. 

Eyewitness Account: Cunningham proved to have some pretty fancy plot development and writing skills in this novel!  The second half of the book makes the first half an almost entirely different story, all foreshadowed with appropriate subtlety and almost none of which I anticipated.  I loved reading about a period and setting that I knew almost nothing about – the beginning of civil unrest in Ireland as a country of lower-class Irishmen tried to reconcile with their Anglo-Irish upper-class gentry after gaining political independence from England.  Ismay asks the tough questions that inform the discussion – is it fair to strip a family of land they’ve held for centuries? Is it fair that 95% of the land is owned by 3% of the population, most of which would shudder to call themselves “Irish”? 

This is the second book I’ve read in a week that’s omitted quotation marks (Cunningham prefers em dashes) – is there a new editing trend I’m not aware of?

Although Ismay’s story is written in a beautiful voice, the character development left something to be desired (as sometimes happens when men write with a female voice) – Ismay felt a bit wooden for someone who was supposed to be so passionate and lively, and the other characters fell flat.  Great characterization leaves you with sadness at the end of a book, as if you are saying goodbye to dear and beloved friends;  having finished this book an hour ago, I can hardly tell you the names of the secondary characters, much less attach any sense of personality to them.  Because of this, the love story pieces felt awkward and unbelievable (not to mention that one character tells another “I love you” after talking to them briefly twice?  Really?). 

Although not a 5-star book, the writing style, plot and historical setting make this novel well worth the read. 

Notable Quotes:

“. . .but at least then I would have him alone, which is to say, a man without pretensions, in need of love, who stayed at home and close to me, who came out the cliffs for walks and who listened as well as spoke.”

“We’ve only got one life.  You’ve got to live your dreams.  No one else is going to do that for you.”

“The love I known had both buoyed me and drowned me, for there were times when I knew I had lived rarely.”

Other Books Read by This Author:  None. 

What are other people saying?  Meredith Dias, Historical Novel Review, Suite 101 


★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


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