‘From the Sunday Times bestselling author of
Days Without End and The Secret Scripture,
and one of our most soulful living writers,
Old God’s Time is an extraordinary novel about
memory, love, mystery and reckoning.’
[ About Old God’s Time ]
Recently retired policeman Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian castle overlooking the Irish Sea. For months he has barely seen a soul, catching only glimpses of his eccentric landlord and a nervous young mother who has moved in next door. Occasionally, fond memories return, of his family, his beloved wife June and their two children.
But when two former colleagues turn up at his door with questions about a decades-old case, one which Tom never quite came to terms with, he finds himself pulled into the darkest currents of his past.
[ My Review ]
Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry will publish March 2nd with Faber and is described as ‘a beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite as it seems, Old God’s Time is about what we live through, what we live with, and what may survive of us.‘
I have read many of Sebastian Barry’s books, including Days Without End and The Secret Scripture, so I knew that I was about to delve into something very special when I first opened the cover of Old God’s Time. Sebastian Barry is an award winning author whose work has received global acclaim and there is a reason. His style is lyrical as he explores the fragility of the human mind and his writing is mesmerising.
In Old God’s Time, Thomas Kettle is the main protagonist, a character inspired by an elderly man Sebastian Barry encountered in his youth, while staying with his grandfather.
“I looked in the door of another flat: what amounted to a mere lean-to built against the older castle. There, gazing in, I saw a large man in a wicker chair, with his back to me, seemingly just looking out on the sea and the island below his window, never turning his head, but smoking a little thin cigar in possible contentment…he stuck in my mind, and in the decades following I often wondered who he was.
So I suppose I have made up a story about him in the interests of placing his imaginary biography on the record, as it were.” – Sebastian Barry
Thomas Kettle is a retired policeman with time on his hands. He lives in a lean-to of an old castle, having packed up the family home, following too many tragedies in his life. With the possibility of a fresh start laid in front of him, Thomas struggles to settle. There are too many ghosts shadowing him, holding him back from a new beginning. When two former colleagues knock on his door, Thomas is forced to look more closely at his past and to face up to the reality of his actions.
Old God’s Time is defined by Oxford Reference as ‘an expression indicating a period beyond memory’ and is a perfect title for this novel that is all about the struggle with memory, what is real versus what is imagined. Thomas Kettle sees things, he experiences sensations that he is convinced in the moment are real. He converses with real people but he also has conversations with others that leaves the reader temporarily perplexed, differentiating between the two.
A stream of consciousness weaves its way through the chapters as Thomas journeys into his past and is forced to face some home truths. The waters do get somewhat murky for the reader, deciphering his reality from everyone else’s, but Sebastian Barry keeps you engaged at all times with his captivating prose and his powerful examination of the impact of trauma on memory.
Set in the 1990s, we get insights into the early years of Thomas and his wife, June. He recalls her story and of how they first met. He recalls the pain and the loneliness of both their childhoods under the care of the religious institutions. He remembers his years in the British Army and his stint in Malaya, all crushing memories. The Dublin bombings of 1974 is brutally described, when Thomas was a young member of An Garda Síochána, leaving very little to the imagination.
As the story progresses, we get more of a sense of Thomas, a fuller picture of this man who has endured too much tragedy and grief in one life. A gentle disposition, his spirit has been exposed to traumas that would fell a man, but Thomas always kept going, steadfast in his ways. Now with reality impinging on his life, a life that has already suffered too much, his memory plays tricks on him, leaving him confused and completely in disarray.
Old God’s Time is quite an extraordinary reading experience. It is a book that is to be slowly savoured and, definitely a book that requires a second reading. There is so much packed into this novel, with horrifying insights into abuse, violence and family trauma. I have no doubt the audiobook will be superb, as the reader will be able to grasp better the voice of Thomas when his thoughts become confused with reality. The streams of chatter will cross very well to audio, adding a whole new layer to this powerful tale.
Old God’s Time is a shocking, heart-breaking and meditative novel, one where our past is exposed, for what it did and what it was, portraying the horrifying impact it had on those who were victims, depicted through the life and times of Thomas Kettle.
[ Bio ]
Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. The 2018-21 Laureate for Irish Fiction, his novels have twice won the Costa Book of the Year award, the Independent Booksellers Award and the Walter Scott Prize. He had two consecutive novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, A Long Long Way (2005) and the top ten bestseller The Secret Scripture (2008), and has also won the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He lives in County Wicklow.
This sounds fabulous Mairead. I could just stare at the cover for hours. Another one of your great picks for me. Thank you.
Lucky you to have got an advance copy! I am very jealous. I adore Sebastian Barry and his work and can’t wait to read this. I saw him in discussion with Claire Armitstead on a Guardian Live event yesterday evening and he was fabulous and engaging as usual. He really is an outstanding artist.
There’s a brilliant interview he did last week with RTE radio launching his book in Dun Laoghaire. So good https://open.spotify.com/episode/3aeszZjyn0WSjowoQLDIqz?si=uFq52FIhTLGnl6mOISnjQQ