From a Low and Quiet Sea ~ by Donal Ryan

It took me two readings to “get” this one, but it was definitely worth it because  this is a totally wonderful book.  But it’s neither an easy read nor a fun one.  I actually didn’t think much of it for quite a long ways in, maybe 1/2 way,  but by the time the reader was doing the credits I was smiling and thoughtful.  Bravo!

Then,  after checking a couple reviews,  I decided to reread it pronto because it is so short and I felt I’d missed a lot.  The last couple chapters tie it all together but if you don’t have a firm hold on the story threads it’s not going to mean much.  On the second reading I found there were several more elements, some vital, which unite the characters and the stories than I’d understood on the first reading.

From a Low and Quiet Sea
by  Donal Ryan
2018/ 192 pages
read by 6 narrators – 5h 42m
rating:  9 / contemp fiction 

None of the three very distinct stories about different men in different parts of the world   has a real ending.  The last couple chapters unite the stories into a cohesive novel.  It’s actually brilliant, imo.

The first story is that of a refugee family from the war in Syria.  Farouk, a doctor and the son of an apostate,  is the focus character.  He fears the coming terrorist/ fundamentalist regime and puts his life along with the lives of his family beloved into the hands of human smugglers in order to get to Europe.  He is presented quite indirectly, almost like a 1st person. It’s very intense.

The second story is that of Lampy,  a 23-year old bus driver from a small town in Ireland who is still in love with a woman who rejected him and whose family has secrets. He, a good Catholic boy,  carries enormous guilt and anger and a restless ambition.

And the third story concerns a man named John, a very rich accountant, lobbyist and “fixer,’  who is making his life confession to a priest.  He says he has broken every commandment as tells his story.  He’s married with children,  but fell in love with a waitress.

All three are looking for answers to their existential questions about real life pain. It all comes together with surprise and incredible impact.  (I actually read the last long chapter three times.)

Donal Ryan writes beautifully,  light and real,  but still with an underlying intensity which is striking in addition to appropriate metaphors as well as the occasional very very light foreshadowing.

“He wasn’t sure of himself: he wasn’t able even to walk without considering his gait, the sureness of his step, whether his bearing seemed manly enough, whether his handshake was firm enough, without being so firm as to represent a challenge to the strangers, transmitted through their fingers and their palms.”   (p. 2) 

As the title suggests,  water and the ocean are involved always involved if only peripherally,  but there are also multiple themes which flow through each of the separate stories, loss,  guilt, family,  honor, money, and storytelling.  Religion also plays heavily in all of their stories,  but more importantly,  so does love.

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7 Responses to From a Low and Quiet Sea ~ by Donal Ryan

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Yes, I want this one:)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read the first section of this one and then left it (not sure why) but think it would be best to start all over again when I have time to really dedicate to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup – it’s a great book but I think a lot of books need the right time. I put a book aside once as being totally stupid. Went back to it a couple months later and loved it. Go figure. 🙂


  3. Carol Seim says:

    I’ve read twice but still don’t get all the connections at the end…? Help?


    • I had to go back and reread the book! I would never have done that had the book not been soooo good and so short – lol. It has the scope of a novel withing the length of a novella .

      Yes, the last couple chapters are confusing when three essentially separate short stories about individual characters with no connections come together with a bang (a bus crash). One character dies then and the others have fairly good endings. But all the stories are thrown together and end up like three strands of yarn thrown together then tied and knitted for a single cloth. And this is done with the structure of tiny short chapters with some connections being surprising and tenuous, but they all fit like a carefully cut jigsaw puzzle.

      I thought it was a wonderful ending. Unless I parsed it all out I would never be able to explain it better than Ryan did and I don’t even want to try that. It needs a second or third reading to “get” what happens to all the individual strands because the meansings are embedded in the narrative as a whole and author doesn’t explain the specifics.

      I wrote up a second review for this reading – it’s a bit more complete and has spoilers. (I can’t make that link, sorry.)


  4. Pingback: From a Low and Quiet Sea ~ by Donal Ryan | Becky's Books –

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