On Canaan's Side, By Sebastian Barry


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The Dunne family, loyal to the Crown and caught on the wrong side of history when Ireland rebels, have in Barry's plays and novels acted as our guides to the intimate tumult great events bring.

In On Canaan's Side, Lilly sits in her neat seaside house in 1990s Long Island and remembers a life shaped – and, she thinks, contaminated - by her too-dramatic past: "the poison... in me, was history".

Barry's great subject, with Lilly's loyalist family bereft as "all the world [her father] knew had gone on fire", lends the early sections a fiery passion. Her gaze as a keen-eyed fugitive under "the generous American sky" brings freshness to the migrant story.

If the later acts slip out of focus, as too much occurs too fast, the lush beauty of Barry's prose always compels.