Book review: The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham

4/5 stars.

Another book in the series of “Sarah reads books she downloaded to her Kindle on a whim for cheap or free”. In this case the title really appealed to me – there are few things I like more than the sea and silence, and I have resolved to read more books by Irish writers.

This was a very unusual book, written unlike any other I’ve read.

Roughly the first half of the book is the story of Ismay – Iz for short, who struggles with her marriage and being a good mother for her son. The second half of the book is about Ismay’s younger years, before she got married. It was a very clever way to tell the story. In the first half you are aware that something must have happened – something dramatic probably, but you only really get to see how the two parts of the story fit together right at the very end of the second half, and then everything falls tragically and beautifully into place.

I must admit that although I grew to love the writing, I found it hard to get into at first. I felt as if Iz was relating stories from her life as if they were peripheral to her and of no interest or consequence. But at some point after the 30% mark I was completely drawn in and captivated, and actually ended up really liking the writing style once I’d gotten used to it.

There’s also a nice (and understandable) juxtaposition in the first half being related in a more distant manner, and the second half more passionately. Between Ismay the realist and Ismay the lover and idealist.

It’s a slow burn, but becomes totally engaging. And heart breaking. Spoiler alert: it does not end well. (Not that much of a spoiler as that’s kind of apparent from early on.)

The language is at times really poetic. I love the highlight function on Kindle but I sadly forget to use it. The quote that I did manage to highlight is possibly slightly spoilerish, but really illustrates what I love about the writing style:

I craved that speck of time between his life and death so that I could ease myself into it and remain there forever.

I find it so relatable and understandable and yet poetic.

Now that I’ve finished the whole story I’m kind of tempted to go back and read the first half again just to see how exactly everything fits together – kind of like at the end of the Sixth Sense you want to rewind the movie and watch it all over again, because surely they messed something up? (Other spoiler alert: they didn’t.)

I would recommend this to anyone interested in family sagas and Irish history that has a little bit of patience and doesn’t always need a happy ending. This kind of storytelling is maybe not for everyone, but I ended up being very pleasantly surprised.