Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham

Author bio

PETER CUNNINGHAM is an award winning Irish novelist.
He is best known for the historical novels The Sea And The Silence, Tapes Of The River Delta, Consequences Of The Heart and Love In One Edition, which chronicle the lives of local families during the twentieth century, in Monument, the fictional version of Waterford in south-east Ireland, where Cunningham grew up. His novel, The Taoiseach, which was based on the life of former Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Charles J. Haughey was a controversial bestseller. Capital Sins, a satirical novel, dealt with the collapse of the Irish economy during the financial crisis that began in 2008.
Cunningham’s work has attracted a significant amount of critical attention and praise. The Sea And The Silence (translated into French as La Mer Et La Silence) was awarded the Prix de l’Europe in 2013. This novel was also short-listed for the Prix des Lecteurs du Telégramme and the Prix Caillou. Consequences Of The Heart was short-listed for the Kerry Listowel Writer’s Prize. In 2011 Cunningham won the Cecil Day Lewis Bursary Award.
His fiction is distinguished by its fusing of political material with psychological realism and a lyrical sensitivity to place and people.
Peter Cunningham is a member of Aosdána, (the Irish Academy for Arts and Letters). He has judged the Glen Dimplex Literary Awards and the Bantry Festival Writer’s Prize.
Under the pseudonym Peter Wilben, he has published the Joe Grace mystery thrillers series.
He is married to Carol, a Jungian analyst, with whom he has six children. He lives in County Kildare, Ireland.
The Sea and the Silence is set in Ireland in the period from the start of W W I I to the early 1970s.  It opens in a solicitor's office.  He has two envelopes.  One of them is labeled "Ismay", for Iz, the woman central to the novel, and the other "Hector", her son.   The solicitor, who has long had a crush on Iz, an English woman who lived much of her life in Ireland, is handling her will.   Iz was married for a long time to an upper class anglo-Irishman, who cheated on her, drank way too much, and was a poor excuse for a husband.   The novel, which goes back and forth in time, shows her trying to cope with the financial irresponsibility of her husband and his affairs, care for her aging parents, and be a good mother.  She was only human and in one very moving and nearly shocking sequence she is abused and abandoned in her own affair by a man who most would have seen was just using her for his own amusement.

The novel also very subtly presents us with a picture of life in neutral Ireland during the World War II years.  We see the scarcities and we sense the final decline of the Anglo-Protestant Ascendency in Ireland.   In Ireland's neutrality we see a country and a people not sure of themselves, without a clear sense of their own identity.  I think much of the very real depth and power of The Sea and the Silence is in the way the ambiguities in the life of Iz mirror the political and social issues of Ireland.  Iz has always obtained her identity through her role as wife and mother, when she begins to lose this we see her lose anchor.  Similarly, Ireland freed of England does not, it seems, quite to know what to do with herself.  I mean no offense here but can one imagine in any possible way how the Irish would have been better of had the Germans won the war?

As the life of Iz develops, she becomes estranged from her husband and is totally devoted to her now grown son Hector who joined the British Army and is stationed in Belfast.  Cunningham shows us the truth in Milton's dictum, "they also serve who only sit and wait".   The war years are brilliantly realized. 

I greatly enjoyed this book both for its treatment of the period, the very interesting structure of the novel, the well done characterizations and the exquisite prose.

I hope to do a Q and A with Peter Cunningham soon so please look for that.

Mel u

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