Some writers ease you into a story, others make you work and then there are those writers who somehow hypnotise you immediately. Colum McCann is the latter. I wasn’t just entranced from the opening sentence but the opening words of McCann’s superb new novel.
One of the things that I really love about Colum McCann’s novels is the way he encapsulates human endeavour. In This Side Of Brightness he vividly brought to life the digging of the Brooklyn-Manhattan subway tunnel. The way he described one of the tunnellers being pushed out of the tunnel by the immense pressure built up in the tunnel, literally through the river bed and out into the Hudson, is a scene the I can still vividly remember reading. He did it again in Let The Great World Spin as he not only captured Philippe Petit’s amazing high-wire walk between the Twin Towers, but also the build up to the high-wire walk and it’s effect on the people of New York City.
He opens TransAtlantic with another epic feat of human endeavour, the first flight across the Atlantic in 1919. As he does so well McCann captures all the elements, the spirit, the adventure, the danger and sheer will and determination that goes into the flight. McCann puts you right in the cockpit with the two men who made the crossing from Canada to Ireland.
The book then moves from primitive aeroplanes back to Ireland in the 1840s. The country is on the verge of the great potato famine. But McCann doesn’t put us in the place of a rich or poor Irishman, instead he puts us in the shoes of Frederick Douglas. A freed African-American slave who has been invited to Ireland to talk about his book and rally support for the abolitionists and encourage economic boycotts against slave owners. Through Douglas we witness the plight of the poor in Ireland and a different form of subjugation. One not so clearly defined along racial lines and Douglas must decide where and when his fight is best served.
And then we move forward to the Good Friday peace talks in 1998 as we follow an American senator integral to the negotiations as he flies back and forth between New York and Belfast over many weeks.
You could be forgiven for thinking this novel was a series of thematically linked short stories but these first three vignettes are just the beginning of vast and rich tapestry. Then McCann begins to slowly pull these threads together. The tighter he pulls the threads the more we see the importance and significance of the novel’s opening and we are immersed in the lives of four generations of Irish/American women whose lives ebb and flow across both sides of The Atlantic.
McCann’s writing captures you and absorbs you. You are truly lost in the words and transported to another time and place. Each sentence is so short, so precise, so perfect, so wonderful. To try and highlight one passage leaves whole pages highlighted. He is a sheer joy to read, absorb and enjoy and is close to perfection as any writer living today.
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 23-May-2013
Country of Publication: United Kingdom