Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 13, 2021

From a Low and Quiet Sea, by Donal Ryan

This stunning novel was recommended to me by Becky from Becky’s Books and it was only after I’d read it and sorted my thoughts that I discovered that Kate from Books are My Favourite and Best had reviewed it too…

Written in three entirely separate narratives brought together in a concluding chapter, From and Low and Quiet Sea tells the story of three men unknown to each other.  Farouk is a doctor who fled ISIS in Syria; Lampy is troubled young Irishman with a broken heart; and John is a chancer who made an art form of bearing false witness against his neighbours.  His narration is told first person, as a penitent seeking absolution for a wicked life.

The author’s choice to place Farouk’s tragic story first makes Lampy’s heartbreak seem initially to be less calamitous.  Being dumped by a girlfriend and having a lack-lustre job with no future is a commonplace, but in Ryan’s compassionate hands the reader sees that grief, no matter how it’s caused, is devastating.  Both Farouk and Lampy struggle to articulate their feelings and can’t ‘move on’ at the pace that life so heartlessly seems to demand.  Their losses and the hopes they refuse to discard are always in their thoughts.  In Lampy’s case, this failure to attend to the here-and-now is catastrophic; for Farouk, it impacts on his chances for resettlement and his relationships within the refugee camp.

Are there readers who feel compassion for John?  It’s hard to do that when reading his narrative, noting that his repentance is triggered only by thoughts of his impending death in the confessional fine and wide, not like the upright coffins sometimes used.  Even though he had his travails, not the least the unexpected death of his much-loved and admired brother, John is a low-life, one who takes what he wants, with violence if it suits him.  It is only in the concluding pages when the threads of this narrative come together that the horror of his death is revealed… and no one deserves a death like that.  Even Lampy would not have wished it on him.

This is not a book to read in haste, and it bears re-reading well.

Author: Donal Ryan
Title: From a Low and Quiet Sea
Publisher: Transworld, Penguin, UK, PRH, 2018
ISBN: 9781781620304, pbk., 182 pages
Source: Kingston Library

 


Responses

  1. He’s such a wonderful writer. I have his latest one waiting to be read, have yiu read that yet?

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  2. I really ought to give Donal Ryan another go. I didn’t get on with his debut (very many years ago now) and have never been inclined to read his stuff even when people rave about it.

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    • The Spinning Heart? I didn’t get on all that well with it either, but all is forgiven, as they say…

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      • Oh, I loved The Spinning Heart! For some reason I haven’t read another of Ryan’s books since then, though, so maybe I’ll try this one. It sounds wonderful. Thanks for the reminder, Lisa!

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        • Hi Andrew, There was a lot to like about it, and you can see that (I hope) in my review (https://anzlitlovers.com/2014/06/30/the-spinning-heart-by-donal-ryan/) but now, what I remember is that dead narrator!

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          • Ah yes, that does come across in your review. I don’t remember the dead narrator, but I do remember a huge number of narrators, and some were definitely more successful than others. When the voices worked, I found them just wonderful. I thought he had a great way of telling sad stories with a lot of humour, which isn’t easy to do. I look forward to seeing what his newer work is like.

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            • That trip we made to Ireland and Spain, the one I refer to in the review, has stayed with me. We could see for ourselves the melancholy effects of the GFC which had largely passed us by here in Australia because the government used to stimulus measures to stave off a recession.
              Ireland seemed especially defeated.

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  3. I’ve only read two of Donal Ryan’s novels (including this) but he’s quickly become a favourite. He’s so concise and his storytelling is so compassionate. I’m waiting for his other work to arrive in the charity bookshop but I’m tempted to a rare new purchase if it doesn’t happen soon!

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    • I used to have a marvellous second-hand bookshop near me where someone who had the same taste in books as me, used to buy all the recent releases and as long as I haunted the place weekly, I could often get new releases at less than half the cost of new. Alas, the shop closed down when everything went online, and I haven’t been able to find where that reader now recycles her books!

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  4. It’s a wonderful read, isn’t it? So glad you enjoyed it.

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  5. ‘Stunning’ is an apt word. This is certainly worth rereading – and even reading reviews will bring the feeling of heartache back. Thanks for posting this!

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    • I really like reading reviews of books I’ve read before, there’s always a new angle I haven’t considered.

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  6. i just borrowed this from the library following your review – it looks wonderful – can anyone recommend any others of Donal Ryan’s I should read next, if I can get hold of them. I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of him before. Thanks Lisa!

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    • probably anything you can get your hands on!

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  7. On my list! I love his work. Thank you, Lisa :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve been meaning to try something of his for ages. Unfortunately, that’s a well-populated category of good intentions. :)

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    • LOL All readers have those. I reckon I could fill a public library with the books ‘I’m gunna read’.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan […]

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