Wednesday 4 October 2023

Old God's Time - Sebastian Barry (2023)


Rating: Admirable

There's two ways to look at Sebastian Barry's novel, Old God's Time. The first is a reaction that goes something like this: okay, so this seems like a typical Irish novel, allusive, subjective, but above all, bleak, unrelentingly bleak; however, with some humour emerging through the murk of suffering. Tom Kettle, a retired Irish policeman, is attempting to settle into a quiet old age, when two young policemen knock on his door asking him for help with a cold case about a murdered priest. By this early stage we've witnessed Kettle resist suicidal urges (in fact, one of the humorous parts) and rummage through his memories and thought processes. It's all very depressing, the weather is grey, rainy, overcast. The prose style is claustrophobic, written in close third person, which gives the reader an intimate view of proceedings via Kettle's often hazy and impressionistic point of view. And still, it's depressing, dark and grim. You ask yourself, why am I reading this? Do I really need to read something this grim? This novel is rough medicine, it's no way to feel good, this novel. I wanted to give it up, but somehow I kept on going, I don't like to give up on books. Old God's Time did not beat me, although it made me depressed for the duration.

The second way of looking at Old God's Time, meaning 'a period beyond memory,' is that it is a typical Irish novel, deeply profound, bleak, yes, but also humorous, and above all extremely well written. Barry's prose is a masterclass of both emotional depth and insight. The close third person prose style allows an intimate perspective of a broken man who has, nonetheless, endured. Although Kettle is certainly an unreliable narrator, the cold case that the young policemen come to Kettle about is a brilliant way of exploring his past, with his wife and two children living with trauma associated with institutional abuse. Ireland's dark past is laid open for tough examination and Barry presents the facts in tragic detail, giving the reader profound insight into the terrible abuses meted out by Catholic priests. Old God's Time is a quality novel and is important, as the world needs to know what went on at the hands of priests who had the trust of the community and, supposedly, acted on behalf of God. Now, where do I sit regarding Old God's Time? I fall somewhere inbetween. I didn't have the energy to read such a serious and bleak novel and it didn't draw me in like excellent novels often do. Despite my initial misgivings, objectively it really is an excellent novel, but I've marked it down to admirable. The novel really is much better than that, but it's just a matter of subjectivity really. Recommended for book clubs due to the style of the writing and the seriousness of the themes; my book club members loved it and the discussion was very satisfying.

No comments:

Post a Comment