I read The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham on my Sony Reader, thanks to NetGalley.
About the Book:
Dick Coad, like his father before him, is a solicitor in the small town of Monument, Ireland. When we meet him, he is contemplating the will of his life-long friend, Ismay (Iz) Shaw. His part in carrying out Iz’s wishes is to read the two neatly labeled parcels she’s left him: “1: Hector” and “2: Iz.” As he begins to read, he realizes these parcels tell the story of Iz’s life. Except that the second half comes first, telling of Ismay Seston’s marriage to Ronnie Shaw in 1945 and what happened after. It’s not until Dick opens the second package–“Iz”–that we learn what came before.
Set off by brief scenes with Dick, Ismay’s story unravels before our eyes and in her own determined voice. Her life with Ronnie is laid out with steady honesty; she then doubles back to fill in what came before and make the picture complete. Her story encompasses class issues, land battles, war, family, independence, tragedy, history, and–most of all–love.
The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham was a beautiful book to read. Iz and her story are captivating and drew me along effortlessly. I trusted Iz’s recollections; I could not detect any reason she would lie. Her account of her life is a means to set the record straight, to say what she could never have said during her lifetime in one cohesive narrative.
I loved the structure of The Sea and the Silence. It’s set up in five parts, which alternate between Dick and Iz, though Iz’s sections are much longer. Having Dick there gently reminded me that Iz was gone, that I was reading her memoir after the story had reached its conclusion. Yet because Dick only appears briefly before the first book, after the second, and between the two, I was able to fully immerse myself in Iz’s story without being continuously jerked back and forth between time periods.
But more than that, I loved the fact that the second half of Iz’s life came first. The story certainly would have worked had it been told linearly, yet it wouldn’t have been nearly as enthralling or poignant. Seeing Iz after so much had happened and then peeling back the years to see how she came to that later point added a layer to the novel that worked beautifully. At its heart, Iz’s tale is a love story, but one that’s uncovered slowly, bit by bit, until the final piece clicks into place and the picture is complete. Knowing I’d eventually learn the truth, rooting for Iz as she navigated through her life as best she could, is what kept me turning the pages.
Iz is very much the central character in The Sea and the Silence. It is, after all, her story. But the multitude of other characters, no matter how slight their roles, always felt like real people as well. They were as alive and distinct as Iz herself was. Cunningham’s writing is simple yet beautiful, striking, no-nonsense, yet also lovely.
Taken together, the story, characters, and writing form a solid package. It’s not a novel I expect I’ll soon forget. Readers who enjoy getting wrapped up in a novel, especially historical fiction, will find their sort of book in The Sea and the Silence.
- A Reader’s Respite
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I was interested to read that Peter Cunningham has written other books. Have you read any of them, or anything similar you’d recommend?