Old God's Time

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Pub Date Mar 02 2023 | Archive Date Sep 15 2023

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Description

LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2023

THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER

TWICE WINNER OF THE COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR


'A masterpiece' Sunday Times

'Stunning' LIZ NUGENT

'Extraordinary' Irish Times


Tom Kettle, a retired policeman, and widower, is settling into the quiet of his new home in Dalkey, overlooking the sea.

His solitude is interrupted when two former colleagues turn up at his door to ask about a traumatic, decades-old case. A case that Tom never quite came to terms with. And his peace is further disturbed when his new neighbour, a mysterious young mother, asks for his help.

A beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite as it seems, Old God's Time is an unforgettable exploration of family, loss and love.


‘To borrow a word that recurs in its pages, it is stupendous, in the sense that it shocks and astonishes.’ Irish Times

Rare indeed are those novels worth cherishing and keeping close. Old God's Time is one of them.’ Daily Telegraph

‘So captivating. . . it will live long in the minds of its readers.’ Independent


WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:

‘A beautiful family love story. It will haunt you and break your heart.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘Deeply felt and so moving. I will be reading this again.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘A tragic tale beautifully told. Sebastian Barry is one of the great contemporary writers.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘Absolute perfection in novel form.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘Deeply tragic. Deeply humorous. Utterly beautiful. I’m in awe.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘A writer in possession of something divine … just exceptional.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘Magically transporting … the balance of extreme grief and joy are perfectly expressed.’ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2023

THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER

TWICE WINNER OF THE COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR


'A masterpiece' Sunday Times

'Stunning' LIZ NUGENT

'Extraordinary' Irish Times


Tom...


Advance Praise

'Nobody writes like, noboday takes risk like, nobody pushes the language, and the heart, and the two together, quite like Sebastian Barry does.'

Ali Smith

'His work reminds us how much we need these rare gifts of the natural storyteller.'

Tessa Hadley

'Amazing ... For page after page, I found myself thinking, how does he do that?'

David Nicholls

'Barry writes about unconditional love better than anyone I have ever read. Ever.'

Melissa Harrison

'Barry is the laureate of empathy.'

Sunday Independent  

'One of Sebastian Barry's extraordinary gifts as a writer is his boundless capacity for empathy.'

Irish Times

'Nobody writes like, noboday takes risk like, nobody pushes the language, and the heart, and the two together, quite like Sebastian Barry does.'

Ali Smith

'His work reminds us how much we need these...


Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780571332779
PRICE £18.99 (GBP)
PAGES 272

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Featured Reviews

Absolute perfection in novel form ,this book is beautiful and haunting in its loveliness .It talks of love of family and the poignancy of looking back on the lives of lost loved ones together with the unreliability of memory as we age .
The topics it covers are not easy ones and the abuse perpetrated by priests on children in their care is not easy to read about nevertheless this author manages this with a degree of subtlety and honesty that moves the story away from a misery memoir
The author has a beautifully poetic writing style that is a delight to read ,he manages to describe the Irish setting with such cinematic clarity I felt I had been there and shared the joy of high summer by the seaside with the narrator
I would describe this book as a literary novel although it is not in any way a difficult read .The story and the life of the elderly retired police detective is fascinating and the story moves quickly .I was very quickly invested in the main character
I read an early copy on NetGalley Uk the book is published by Fabre and Fabre ltd in the Uk in March 2023

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There’s a thread of sadness that runs through this story. Set in Ireland in the 90’s, we’re told about the times back in the 60’s. An era of deprivation and abuse of orphans, particularly it seems, by priests. The author puts across very well, the long term effects this had on some of those children. We particularly learn a lot about the deceased wife of our main character. He’s struggled over the decades to cope without her but tries his best. Upholding the Law for years as a police officer but retired now and not sure what to do with himself. We eventually discover how she met her demise towards the end of the book. Our main character appears to see ghosts on occasion and I felt this truly highlighted his caring and open nature. It also gives the story an eerie feel.
I thoroughly enjoyed this atmospheric book and felt the end was particularly well written. It left me unsure whether what I read was what really happened or the imagination of the old police officer? he sign of a good story - you can have the ending you want by how you interpret it. Well worth reading.

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Tom Kettle is a retired policeman living quietly by the Irish Sea, but when two former colleagues from the police force visit him to discuss an unresolved case from the past, memories of that past begin to intrude on the peaceful life he seems to have made for himself and it becomes increasingly unclear what is real and what is imagined.

This is an extraordinary book about the tenacity of love, about the effects of trauma not just on the victims but also on those around them, and about Tom's decency and absolute determination to do good in his life in spite of the inescapable shadows of the past. At the book's heart is a consideration of memory - what we allow ourselves to remember and the memories we must force ourselves to shut away in order to survive.

Sebastian Barry's finely wrought prose dances off the page. Exhilarating, poetic passages about the sea and nature and love and the weather and the simple joys of living sit side by side with descriptions of the terrible events which set Tom and his family on their path through life. The book takes the reader on an at times emotionally very challenging journey, but one which is well worth taking.

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Although Sebastian Barry has twice been a Booker Prize finalist, I had never picked up any of his novels – a mistake I finally corrected by reading Old God’s Time.
Set in the hauntingly beautiful coastal setting of Dalkey, a seaside resort southeast of Dublin, Barry’s main character is retired Detective Sergeant Tom Kettle, who spends many hours in self-appointed isolation, smoking his beloved cigarillos and reminiscing about his life and career. Gradually, his interior monologue becomes intertwined with an ongoing police investigation, and the scope of his recollections widens to include the harrowing child abuse cases at the hands of Catholic priests, a chapter in Irish history that will never be fully closed. Written in achingly beautiful prose, this is a book that deserves a wide readership and that should, like two of Barry’s previous novels, also be a strong contender for the Booker Prize. Thank you to Faber and Faber (the publishers) and to NetGalley for the ARC that enabled me to familiarise myself, finally, with Barry’s work and to produce this unbiased book review.

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I don’t suppose I’m alone in thinking the Irish have a way with words, that many are gifted storytellers and Sebastian Barry is firmly in that category.

This is retired detective Tom Kettle’s story. He lives in an annex attached to a castle in Dalkey that has uninterrupted views of the sea. One evening his hermit like solitude is interrupted by two young detectives, Wilson and O’Casey who ask for Tom‘s expertise in an unsolved cold case. Their visit and the report they ask him to look at deeply unsettle Tom’s much sought for peace and tranquillity. This is further shattered when a young woman and her son move in next door who seeks his guidance and help. The novel is Tom‘s musings in which we learned a great deal about him, his wife June and their two children Winny and Joe.

It is often said that a novel takes you on a journey and this one most certainly does and it’s far from an easy one. It covers ground that has been well trod but because it’s from this lovely kind man’s perspective it seems to hit you harder somehow. What we learn still has the capacity to shock you to the core yet it is also sensitively told. As you would expect from a writer of this calibre it is beautifully written. In places the language is poetic, the phrasing has originality and quirks. The novel is entertaining in places, amusing from time to time and then unbearably sad as you witness suffering and despair. It is extremely poignant, very moving with very powerful undercurrents and the end is the real gut punch.

I love the atmosphere the author creates. He gives us Dalkey with the ever moving sea and its changing colour palette, the castle and its Annex, the vagaries of the Irish climate, there’s a ghostly vibe too and an air of elusive mystery that you try to grasp a hold of.

Overall, another memorable and compelling novel.

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Faber and Faber for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

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Tom Kettle, retired policeman, is now renting a small flat overlooking the sea at Dalkey near Dublin in Ireland. He hardly sees anyone now and generally that doesn't bother him. He has mixed feelings when two serving policeman turn up to talk to him about an old case. They have been asked by their, and Tom's old, senior officer to get his thoughts on the case. Indeed other things seems to conspire to disturb his tranquillity. A young mother renting a neighbouring property seems to be worried. Tom is also reflecting on his family - something of a mystery initially.

The story follows Tom's actions and thoughts through activity and reflections. It's fair to say that it is not always obvious whether all aspects of his internal narrative are true. There is a real Irish lyricism to the story telling here. It also often feels like a "stream of consciousness" book too. If I add that time can be mixed and jumbled it might be one of those books that don't tend to work well for me. However I was definitely wrong with that idea for this book!

The first thing I should say here is that for me the writing is exceptional. Indeed it is so rich that I found myself reading this far slower than I might have done just to savour the sentences! The beautiful writing can be tender, honest, open, funny, dark, powerful - it really is all here. I could probably pick almost any paragraph from this and quote something that pleased me.

Much of our time is spent inside Tom Kettle's head. He has led a full life. Given that and his age quite a lot has happened to him and his family. Some of it is disturbing (and this is a warning), maybe deeply disturbing to readers and some of it is to Tom too. This is a book, a story, that builds steadily. The question as we read it is to what? I guess this may be seen as a book about memory, ghosts and demons. Does our memory deceive us sometimes, how real are our ghosts, and what about the demons we have and think we have?

Ultimately this is a haunting tale and will stay with me for a long time to come. If you want a deeply satisfying if disturbing read this is well worth taking a look at.

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𝙾𝚕𝚍 𝙶𝚘𝚍'𝚜 𝚃𝚒𝚖𝚎 𝚋𝚢 𝚂𝚎𝚋𝚊𝚜𝚝𝚒𝚊𝚗 𝙱𝚊𝚛𝚛𝚢 𝚠𝚒𝚕𝚕 𝚋𝚎 𝚙𝚞𝚋𝚕𝚒𝚜𝚑𝚎𝚍 𝚘𝚗 𝟸 𝙼𝚊𝚛𝚌𝚑 𝟸𝟶𝟸𝟹.

As Laureate for Irish Fiction from 2019-2021, you expect Sebastian Barry's writing will be exceptional. And with his upcoming novel he doesn't disappoint. This story is a stream of consciousness from retired policeman, Tom Kettle, exploring memory, love, grief and ageing. Through Tom Kettle, Barry shows the enduring effect of personal trauma and vicarious trauma caused by institutional child sexual abuse and the failings of the Catholic church; the loss of family; drug addiction; murder; regrets...It's a dark and depressing novel that pulls you in and is all consuming. At certain points I thought maybe I didn't have the emotional fortitude to keep reading but Barry lightens it with his beautiful descriptions of the Irish surroundings and the people. It’s an emotional story of feelings and memory that we all potentially carry and perhaps don’t get time to fully contemplate when caught up in living and a reminder to take the time and consideration for older people. Everyone has their story.

Will definitely be buying a hardcopy of this when it is released. 5⭐️

Thank you to #netgalley and @faberbooks for the ebook to review.

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This book was really compelling. The writing is stunning - poetic, rich and full of imagery. Though the story spans only a few days, it takes the reader through a whole life filled with with the breadth of human emotion, from love and joy to loss and fear. What is particularly memorable for me is the way the Irish landscape is its own character throughout.

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A very deep and intimate book. The story revolves around historic child abuse and how the main character, now an old man, processes his memory of his family and the abuse suffered. A very lyrical book with exquisite description and dialogue. Superb.

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Another triumph from Sebastian Barry. A very well written tale that has twists and turns that draw you in.

The central character, Tom Kettle, is a recently retired policeman. One day two young detectives come to his door asking for help with an historic case. But all is not as straightforward as it seems. Why do they take his toothbrush? Why does he need to give a blood sample?

This is not a detective story though. It is a story about love and grief. It is a story about evil and guilt. It is about the present, the past and the long ago past of childhood. It is sad, haunting and has many layers. You are never quite sure which of Tom Kettle’s accounts are real and which come from his troubled imagination.

This is a brilliant read set in Ireland which I totally recommend. I read a copy provided by NetGalley and the publishers but my views are my own.

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A beautifully written book with a gentle, lyrical style for such a potentially harrowing central topic. I really enjoyed this book, set in rural Ireland, and felt it evoked the time, values and place of its setting very well. I particularly liked the way the main character, Tom, was developed through the book and the way our sympathies were changed and sharpened with the twists and turns of the plot. Always sensitive to the subject matter and our evolving perceptions of the background to the events, this is an intriguing and absorbing novel and kept my interest throughout. A lovely read.

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A writer in possession of something divine; a reader possessed by a book

A don’t really know where to start, or where to end, with Sebastian Barry’s extraordinary, transformative, discombobulating, heart-breaking, uplifting, sometimes unbearable book

The start, where we are immediately in the stream of consciousness of the central character, a recently retired detective, was like a brilliant, dizzying combination of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Dylan Thomas. And all itself – all Barry, distilled to a different level of his wonderful writing.

Tom Kettle, a big, solid, seemingly calm and practical man, was an excellent, compassionate and conscientious copper. A man of integrity, respected, liked, admired, loved. There is sadness and tragedy in his past. And there is also great richness, joy, humanity and love

How much of each will unfold through Kettle’s emerging, and sometimes troubling, memory. Tom lives alone now, retired, and a widower. He misses his dead wife June with unbearable intensity. He had two children, as well as a wonderfully happy marriage, a daughter Winnie, a son Joe. But there is some darkness here, some confusion which both Tom and the reader feel. It isn’t that Tom as a person is unreliable, but his memory, his understanding, doesn’t seem to stay in quite the same place, and is troubling.

Barry has lodged the reader, somehow, within Tom, so Tom’s own skittering away memory and grasp of time becomes ours.

This is beautiful literary fiction, and ostensibly, is a police investigation of a cold crime which has resurfaced, and Tom’s prior expertise, is called for by his previous superior officer. But is so much more than any of this, and I would not want to spoil any reader making their own journey with this extraordinary book

I read this as an advanced review copy, in late November 2022, and this is my book of this year. And I’ve read some very good books.

This broke my heart with grief and horror, made me laugh, and at times I could neither bear to read it for anguish and fear for Tom, nor could I bear not to read it.

I have read quite a few books by this author. All wonderful, but this one, just exceptional. And so good that I can’t even attempt to read another fiction book for a wee while, but will wean myself away from this perfection with a well written non-fiction book

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It is hard to review this book without giving anything away.
It is first and foremost a feast of words and expressions, so deftly used that you feel you get to know the fine, upstanding character of Tom Kettle, a retired detective who has always tried to do the right thing.
That he loved his now dead wife and treasured the time he had with her and how much he misses his wife June is told quickly and beautifully.
But Tom or rather Tom's memory is an unreliable narrator and fact and dreams and perhaps ghosts get so mixed up that the startling little surprises along the way both shocked and confused me.
It is a beautiful book about pain and loss and ultimately about how some can seemingly bear great suffering while others cannot ever really get out from under it. But it's about so much more than that - friendship, family, one very ordinary man's retirement and even child abuse.
I will read it again very soon and feel like I will come to a different conclusion in my mind the next time I savour its beautiful language and story.

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That so much pain and distress can be distilled and written with beauty and awe is remarkable, but nothing less than I would expect from Sebastian Barry.

This is a harrowing focused work that sits you firmly in the head of Tom Kettle, retired policeman and recluse whose attempt to shut out the world in isolation gradually fall apart as you read on.

The richness of the writing and the despair of the story are so moving, the book touches on so many issues and histories that you actually feel while you are reading,

It's a truly remarkable book, its impact will stay with you long after you read the last page. Amazing.

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Newly retired detective Tom Kettle is living out his final years in Daleky, an affluent suburb of Dublin overlooking the wild unpredictable Irish sea….”he was quite content just to gaze out. Just to do that. To him this was the whole point of retirement, of existence- to be stationary, happy and useless”... His life takes a rather unexpected turn when he receives an uninvited visit from 2 of his old colleagues, dispatched by former boss Chief Fleming. It is thought that Tom might be of assistance in helping to solve an historic case in which he had direct involvement…..”I’ll send you out to Tom Kettle, good sane clear headed Tom, with a whole citadel, a museum of experience in his head, he’ll set this to rights, give us a heads-up, a way forward, a good steer, a helping hand”.....

What follows is one of the most heart wrenching stories I have ever read, brought to life in such a lyrical and emotional way by the much revered author Sebastian Barry. Tom is a quiet man with a sad past that is slowly revealed to the reader as the novel progresses. This is a book that deals with the legacy of abuse within the church, this is a book about memory and our ability or not to recall events from the past, this is a book that deals with the human desire and need for love, but above all it is an emotional ride as painful thoughts and long forgotten events emerge to disrupt and disturb this quiet man in his final years…..”Things happened to people, and some people were required to lift great weights that crushed you if you faltered just for a moment. It was his job not to falter”...Towards the end of the novel, Tom has cause to notice his neighbour Ronnie McGillicuddy a cellist who could often be heard practicing. Accepting an invite to visit, Tom is at once transported to another dimension by the virtuosos musical skill……what follows made me cry…..”Ronnie McGillicuddy sawed his cello into sweetness, into a thousand sweetnesses, an old Jewish tune being injected into Tom, injected into Ronnie himself - swaying and even muttering , like a lunatic, a poor assailed person, you would think, away with the fairies. They were both away with the fairies and June was alive, she was alive, beautiful and wise, and she would always be there, bursting with life, calm as any old painted Madonna, as long as he did not open his eyes. He lifted both his hands and reached out to hold that longed-for face. To hold it, the soft cheeks, the dark skin, to hold it,to hold it.

Many thanks to the good people at net galley for a copy of this delightful novel in return for an honest review, and that is what I have written. Highly recommended.

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I doubt I'll do this novel justice with this review but I'll try.

Sebastian Barry is, admittedly, one of my favourite writers. His prose is a work of art. The words wind around you like a spell almost. I can lose myself in paragraphs, almost forgetting that there is in fact a story in there.

And then, just as you're relaxing into it, he metaphorically whacks you round the back of the head with something so shocking you'd have to catch your breath. The first time he did this was at the end of A Long Long Way. He's managed this revelatory way of story telling in every book since.

There is so much of a story that he reveals that you begin to get smug and think you know what's happened but in Old God's Time the shocks simply keep coming.

It is certainly one of his more dreamlike stories. You're never sure what Tom Kettle is actually experiencing. There were times when I had to stop and go back a few paged to make sure I'd not missed something but then after carrying on reading all would be made clear.

Tom is a fascinating character. A retired detective whose family are all gone, living in part of an old castle by the coast in well-heeled Dalkey. His memories weave their way in and out of the present making you unsure of what is real and what is not. However Tom's past has finally caught up with him with the arrival of two young detectives asking about his recollections on the death of a priest many years before.

Sebastian Barry takes us on a journey through the past of Tom, his wife June and their children. It is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination dealing, as it does, with child abuse, the priesthood, corruption in the Garda, death, love, grief and fear.

This novel covers so many issues you'd expect it to be quite hard work but Sebastian Barry has such a way with language that it does not feel that way at all.

Highly recommended to any Barry fans or those who prefer their books to say something. Truly wonderful.

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A deeply sensitive and steady unfurling of one man's life story, combined with a story of the shocking historic abuse within the Catholic Church. I found myself unexpectedly compelled to uncover Tom Kettle's story, as more facets of the truth gradually come to light over the course of the book. It almost felt like reading a crime novel in parts - but a supremely well-written one. This was my first experience reading Sebastian Barry's writing, and every sentence was so beautiful and so considered.

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This book was a great read. The writing is stunning - poetic, rich and full of imagery. Though the story spans only a few days, it takes the reader through a whole life filled with the breadth of human emotion, from love and joy to loss and fear. The story revolves around historic child abuse and how the main character, now an old man, processes his memory of his family and the abuse suffered. An enchanting book with brilliant description and dialogue. Recommended.

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Absolutely stunning make a movie what a setting and a time. I can smell the house the clothes and the food. What a wonderful Irish classic hero. The writer is too Thankyou

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Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry

As I was reading this book, with great enjoyment and amazement, I was saying to myself - how am I ever going to review this? The whole book, although told in the third person, takes place inside the mind of Tom Kettle, a retired policeman. For most of the time he is sitting in a wicker armchair in his flat, which is inside a fake gothic castle in Dalkey. From his chair he can look out over the Irish sea, with its fishing boats and cormorant-inhabited island. He is widower, and his thoughts often turn to his beloved dead wife June and to his two adult children. He hardly ever sees anyone, so he is surprisingly pleased when he gets a visit from two former colleagues, Wilson and O’Casey. This is not just a social call, though - they have come to ask for his help on a case they’re investigating. What it is exactly we don’t find out at once, though Tom knows. Later we learn that a priest has been suspected of abuse for many years, but the powers that be in the church and the police have been covering it up and refusing to investigate. When the two detectives tell Tom that this case is connected with the murder, many years ago, of a priest known to associated with the current suspect, he reacts strongly: ‘Ah no, Jesus, no lads, not the fecking priests, no’. What he would have liked to say, but didn’t, was:

Jesus, go home, boys. You are bringing me back to I don't know where. The wretchedness of things. The filthy dark, the violence. Priests' hands. The silence ... Murder, you could murder, you could strike, you could stab, shoot, main, cut, because of that silence….He felt it now. Burning. The fullest humiliation of it felt afresh. Still present and correct, after all these years.

If you thought you were in for a conventional detective story, think again. Though Wilson and O’Casey reappear from time to time, it’s Tom’s memories and regrets that take centre stage. Like so many children of his generation he was abused by a Christian Brother, and June was repeatedly raped by a priest; the trauma has stayed with them both throughout their lives. Thinking about it all, Tom recognises the horror of it:

Many a soul put out like a candlewick in the sea of that lust. The ocean of lust pouring down on a little light, and never to travel again the bright breast of the earth, and come up again like a daisy, a bright yellow daisy of light, on the other side, as the gathering sunlight of a new morning. Quenched and obliterated.

The final result for June had been almost unbearably painful, though we don’t learn that until almost the end of the novel. There is hard reading here, hard but necessary. As for Tom, he has other trauma to deal with, again not revealed at first. What does become clear from early on is the unreliability of his memories and the trustworthiness of what he sees, or thinks he sees, in the world around him. Tom is well aware of this himself: ‘He was clearly going mad. But he had read somewhere that the truly mad would never know they were mad. He knew he was mad. Was that a proof of sanity?’

Certainly, then, this is a novel about abuse and trauma, but it’s also about love. Tom’s love for June shines with astonishing brightness throughout, and for all the years they had together kept their heads above the threatening waters of their desperately sad and shocking memories. The two children have also been bright lights in his life, although there are painful revelations to come there too - the trauma of their parents has somehow been transmitted to them too.

Barry’s writing, as always, carries exceptional beauty and power. He has confronted the iniquities of the Irish church before, in The Secret Scripture, but never with such compelling evidence. He has described a glimpse he once had on a visit to Dalkey with his mother, aged about seven, of an old man sitting in a chair, smoking a cigarillo as he looked out to sea. The vision stayed with him all his life and now, having reached the same age as Tom:

in a sense has allowed me – now at the same age that man was when I saw him myself – to sort of slip into his body and talk about a lot of things that have really bothered me as a grown person in my own life and as a citizen of this country. My aim is to love my country, and so to love it you have to know it well and maybe forgive it a few things.

This is a hard novel to do justice to. It’s deeply moving but also, believe it or not, wonderfully uplifting. I shall be reading it again.

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Tom Kettle has recently retired from the police and is trying to adjust to his new way of life. When two former colleagues come to call with questions about an old case, Tom finds himself once again immersed in old memories and a past that still haunts him. Gradually that past is revealed to the reader and we too become haunted by it. This is a wonderful novel, perhaps even Barry’s best to date – and that’s saying something. It’s also one of his darkest ones – atmospheric, poignant, horrific at times, heart-breaking. Pitch-perfect prose, pitch-perfect dialogue, pitch-perfect characterisation and plot. Pretty much a perfect novel.

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Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

As with all of Barry's novels the writing was beautiful. This author captures every moment and every feeling throughout the story giving the reader the feeling that they are along for the journey. Characterisation as always is perfect. I did find it quite dense at times but this did not detract from the beautiful story that it is. Highly recommend this book and author. If you have never read any of his books then I would advise to go and get as many as you can, you would not be disappointed.

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This exquisite novel is told through Tom’s thoughts. Tom is a retired Irish police officer who has had a life of tragedy. As he relates the story of his life, the reader wonders what is true and what is imagined. It’s a novel about the results of abuse and parts are difficult to read. The investigation of a cold case by his former colleague brings the story to light but only in Tom’s mind. The reader finally learns the truth.

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Old Gods Time is an expression meaning a period beyond memory. In this novel an ex-police detective in rural Ireland, Tom Kettle, is approached to solve a cold case which reawakens recent family history. Tom recollects his wife June and family Winnie and Joe. His grief and love playing tricks on him as he reflects on the ‘sad stations’ of memory.

Throughout the novel Tom and the reader are unsure as to what is real. ‘He had the wild sense that despite the tyranny of dates and time, she was there, not in memory but really’.

The novel has a haunting, ethereal quality. The visiting policemen are given an ‘inky halo’, there is a ghostly girl and even the ‘sea wind [is] out of control, like a suicide or an executed thing’.

This is a beautifully crafted sorry of family and loss.

Thanks to Netgalley and Faber for a review copy.

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Sebastian Barry's latest novel "Old God's Time", is an evocative tale about a retired police detective, Tom Kettle, and is set in the outskirts of Dublin in the 1990's. He unexpectedly receives a visit from two young policemen who want his advice regarding a cold case that unnerves him as it concerns allegations of child abuse perpetrated by the clergy. Tom, himself had first hand knowledge of clerical abuse as he had been raised by the Christian Brothers in an orphanage where abuse was a daily occurrence. His beloved late wife June was also a victim, having been raped by a priest from the age of six. The visit stirs up memories for Kettle that he had supressed about how when he investigated the case originally and was convinced of the guilt of the accused priest, his superiors shut it down.
This novel is Tom's life story, it's raw and gritty, where love abounds but is never quite enough. Sebastian Barry is a wonderful writer, every word is carefully crafted and this beautiful, sad, and oftentimes shocking book, his ninth novel, will stay with you long after you read the final page.

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Old God’s Time is a roller coaster of a novel; a difficult read sprinkled with humour. Tom is a retired police officer whose slightly confused mind enjoys reflecting on memories of his beloved late wife June, and their children. When two police officers arrive to ask him about a cold case he worked on, more memories are brought to the surface.
This is a slow paced book where the main storyline unravels alongside Tom’s past and related personal experiences. It broaches difficult topics in a sensitive way and I was left reflecting on it long after finishing the last page.

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*A big thank-you to Sebastian Barry, Faber and Faber, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*
Absolutely beautifully written, gripping and haunting novel of love gained and lost. I was shaken to the core as the story of Tom Kettle's life was gradually revealed and the roots of his pain and loneliness unearthed.

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(spoiler-free review) At a glance, this novel seems to tread in the footsteps of a current favourite of UK TV drama – that of a police procedural investigation of a cold case from decades ago. But this initial impression is rapidly dispelled. We find retired police sergeant, Tom Kettle, alone in his rented flat, endeavouring to keep his mind a blank. He’s a widower and has 2 adult children, Winnie and Joe who is away in the States. Kettle is visited by two serving officers from his old station. Are they after some information that Kettle has or is this a sort of friendly call?

Immediately we step away from the typical world of TV drama and into a world of menace and uncertainty, reminiscent of Flann O’Brien, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. For example, Tom is invited to attend the station for an interview and we learn how 'Although he hadn't phoned to say he was coming in, he thought he had better phone to say he wasn't, and that he would make it in tomorrow, God willing.' – a sure nod to ‘Waiting for Godot’.

This novel is slow-paced – we spend a lot of time with Tom and gradually learn of appalling cruelties and complicities undertaken under the cover of supposedly caring love by the Catholic Church. These truly appalling deeds are told in undramatic language making it even more dreadful.

But the author’s storytelling allows us to learn of these events through a slow and gradual unfolding. We don’t know what’s going on but we keep reading because of the extraordinarily skilful prose of the author where every other line has a brilliant metaphor and where every paragraph is a prose-poem.

This is an important novel because it brings to life and makes plain the abusive practices in children’s homes in Ireland in the second half of the 20th century. Yes, this has been covered by the media through news reports but this novel makes the lived reality only all too real. This novel does a service in making sure that these abuses are not forgotten or covered up.

If you’re looking for an easy read crime thriller, then this novel may not be for you. But if you’re interested in reading some of the finest prose being written in English today and have the stomach to read of harrowing situations, then certainly give this novel a try.

Thanks go to NetGalley for making available a pre-publication copy so that I might post an unbiased an honest and unbiased review.

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Such a well written evocative story. From the first chapter it is so easy to empathise with Tom, the widowed retired policeman. It is a truly warm story about ageing and forgiveness as he looks back on his life. It is kept relevant as he attempts to help the two young policeman investigating a protected priest, from accusations of abuse. It is a story that need re reading to garner its many intracacies.

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Sebastian Barry is the author of a book that has stayed with me ever since I read it back in 2017, the wonderful Days Without End. (I wasn’t alone in loving it because it went on to win the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction that year.) He’s done it again with Old God’s Time which is just as wonderful and unforgettable.

Written in close third person, the author takes us inside the mind of retired policeman, Tom Kettle. And what an unsettling and disordered place it is to be as past and present intermingle. Tom remembers some things like they were yesterday. On the other hand, events and conversations that appear to be occurring in the present day turn out to be the product of his imagination or echoes of things that happened long ago. Some of these moments, especially those concerning his family are truly heartbreaking.

As Tom looks back on his marriage to June, we are witness to an intensely moving love story. Tom may get confused about other things but he can remember the day he met June with perfect clarity, even the dress she wore. And as the story unfolds, we learn that. as children. they both experienced horrific cruelty at the hands of Catholic priests. The details are harrowing and difficult to read but it feels necessary to do so to bear witness to the people who experienced this in real life and to understand the devastating and lasting impact it had on them. Also shocking is, if not actual complicity, then a failure to act by other institutions including the Garda, the police service of Ireland in which Tom himself served.

It’s such a failure that had dreadful consequences for Tom and June, setting off a chain of tragic events. His resilience in the face of tragedy is humbling. ‘Things happened to people, and some people were required to lift great weights that crushed you if you faltered just for a moment. It was his job not to falter. But every day he faltered. Every day he was crushed, and rose again the following morn…’

There are mesmerising descriptions of the sea, the changing light and weather that Tom observes through the picture window of his flat as he sits in his favourite, ‘sun-faded’ wicker chair smoking a cigarillo. There are also touches of wry humour.

My first thought on finishing the book was, Oh Tom, I wish I could give you a hug; my second was, what a truly brilliant piece of writing. Old God’s Time is the kind of book that, on turning the last page, you want to read all over again. It’s also further proof that a novel doesn’t have to be big to deliver a powerful punch. Old God’s Time is definitely the best book I’ve read so far this year.

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'It was a story of atrocities, certainly. It was almost beyond description, and he had laboured for years not to describe it, to anyone else, and more importantly to himself.'

Damn, Sebastian Barry can write. This is an extraordinary, powerful and quietly shocking novel, filled with luminous prose that will make you wonder at the English language, and full of damaged and fragile characters. The story unfolds slowly, like a slow-motion nightmare, and our central character Tom soon proves himself to be one of those pesky unreliable narrators. Things happen that may or may not actually have happened. And what actually happened remains hidden until the moment Tom unburdens his story to us.

And behind it all is Barry's wondrous prose: 'He heard the night wind mustering, mustering itself against the seaward wall.'

Profoundly moving and lyrical, this will break your heart as only the best literature can do. Surely a must for the Booker shortlist?

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)

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Book Review...

'Old God's Time' by Sebastian Barry

The blurb... Recently retired policeman Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home... 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.

The first word that springs to mind when I think about this story is 'surreal' - Tom Kettle is a hugely unreliable narrator and the lines between reality, imagination and memory are blurred leaving a great deal of ambiguity around both his past and present life and lending a otherworldly quality to the reading experience.

Amid the uncertainty however there are glimmers of solidity which piece together the story of a tragic and harrowing childhood and its devastating repercussions.

It is dark and it is an uncomfortable read for sure but it is also one of great tenderness and unrivalled impact. The writing transported me directly into Tom Kettles head - into his pain and trauma, into his love for his family, into his inner conflict, into his grief - and it brought the full emotional weight of his tragic life to bear on my soul.

Check the trigger warnings, steel yourself and read this book. It was released at the end of February and is waiting to break your heart.

Ad/ pr copy.

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Haunting. Heroic. This is on my list of best books already this year.
Tom Kettle is living as a widower in a lean to annexe of Queenstown Castle. His landlord is Mr Tomelty and fleetingly Tom sees Mrs Tomelty and soaks up his isolation with thoughts of his past life with wife June and two children-Winnie who pops in and then Joe who has moved to New Mexico.
But all is not as it seems especially when Tom is visited by two detectives from the old Garda (police) station where he had worked for years before retiring 9 months earlier.
There is a tale to be told of priests abusing children, a murder and old colleagues who had worked with Tom including the still current boss Fleming at Harcourt Street station in Dublin. Tom seems confused. But often Tom is also very clear about what happens.
This is the emotional nub of the wonderfully described life of Tom Kettle. Barry writes beautifully of the nuances of time and how perceptions can differ when the clear mind is working and now so often with Tom, of when his mind is becoming detached from reality.
There are many novels about Alzheimer's disease but none so sympathetically told as this.
Soak up the landscape and surroundings but see the man.
I did and cried too.

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This is a wonderful, moving novel. From the first we are in the consciousness of Tom Kelly, a retired policeman living a solitary life by the coast, older than his 66 years, who spends his days gazing out to sea. He is approached by two young policeman who are investigating the crimes of a priest. But this is no conventional narrative, we remain within Tom's consciousness as he remembers his past and reflects on his eternal love for his wife, June and their children Joe and Winnie.

Tom's consciousness and the book are suffused with love, a love that endures among the scars left by the abuse of Catholic priests. Tom may be an unreliable and confused narrator at times but the book is a tour de force, a paean to love and compassion. I finished it with tears on my face but loved the book and would recommend it hugely.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for a review copy - if I could I would give it 6 stars.

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There is no questioning Sebastian Barry as a literary talent. He has the ability to pull you into a novel and twist and turn you with a huge emotional impact. This novel tells the story of retired detective Tom Kettle who for nine months has lived alone in an annex of an old castle by the Irish Sea occasionally catching glimpses of his neighbours . His solitude is broken by two detectives enquiring about an unsolved murder. This sudden arrival awakens within Tom the tragedies of his past reflecting upon his wife June and their two children taking the reader into the darker recesses of his life and mind; what makes this an extraordinary novel is the power behind every action and thought of Tom, the transition between past and present and at times Tom's imagined view of events as the turmoil of the past increases. This is not a comfortable read as it deals with child abuse, the horrendous repercussions and the complicity of the church and the state ( in the past) to allow the perpetrators to go unpunished . Sebastian Barry has created novel that will stay with you- powerful, mesmerising, shocking and very moving until the very last sentence.

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In the hands of such a brilliant, gifted and accomplished writer as Sebastian Barry, even the darker topics in this alternating tough, tender and touching story positively sing with a chorus of lyrical Irish charm and deep poetic resonance.

It sings of sadness, love, joy, and loss. It speaks of dreams, family, ageing and finding purpose. There are some discordant notes that might challenge us with their call to pay attention and consider closely the themes we are reading about, but the writing itself never jarrs.

It reverberates with wry reflections on life, such as: “Things happened to people, and some people were required to lift great weights that crushed you if you faltered just for a moment. It was his job not to falter. But every day he faltered. Every day he was crushed, and rose again the following morn like a cartoon figure.”

I fell in love with the character of Detective Sergeant Tom Kettle, whose gentle retirement by the sea is interrupted by the appearance of two colleagues requesting his input on a case, and I think you will, too. Barry packs so much into this book that it requires a slower, more reflective approach.

It can be hard to distinguish between the present and the past in places, between reality or dreams and Tom’s mysterious musings. But that is this novel’s magic and strength, the way it weaves the plot so deftly that we’re willingly to suspend belief and make of it what we will.

I haven’t focused too much on the plot but have rather sought to provide a review that’s a reaction from the heart, with reverence for the consummate skill this book reveals in spades. It definitely deserves to be earmarked for literary awards. Grateful thanks to Faber and Faber Ltd and NetGalley for the ARC.

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Set in present day Ireland, we are looking at the faltering memories of Tom Kettle, a long retired policeman, who is content in his retirement, until two former colleagues start asking him questions about a cold case, concerning historic child abuse by members of the Catholic Church in the 1960’s.
Both Tom and his late wife June, both experienced that abuse in their childhood, but instead of keeping such evil in their hearts, turned those feelings around and became good parents and kind, decent members of society. The Policeman want to take Tom’s toothbrush away with them for testing, and this whole affair reopens painful memories that he has done his level best to suppress. A priest , suspected of child abuse was murdered, by person(s) unknown, at the time, another priest has recently been arrested and Tom’s memories will help the case to proceed. But how reliable is his memory, he does appear to be suffering from the early stages of Dementia, he appears to be visited by ghosts of the past, but memories of such a dark past have a way of pushing themselves into the present day and they are causing Tom such confusion, it is unlikely he would ever be fit to give evidence in a court.
A difficult book to review, harrowing , dark and evil, such misery perpetrated upon those so young. I personally found the writing style to be wandering, it frustrated the flow of the narrative, it seemed to take paragraphs to describe events that could have been condensed into a few sentences, but I haven’t read anything from this author before, that maybe his usual way. A book to read and make you angry.
My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers Faber and Faber for my advanced digital copy in exchange for my honest review. I will leave reviews to Goodreads and Amazon UK.

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Tom Kettle is a retired policeman. He lives in an unusual little cottage in the grounds of an old castle near the sea. He knows the names of his neighbours but tends to live a solitary life. Then one morning he receives a visit from two former colleagues. This sets in motion a chain of events that seems unnecessarily cruel.
We learn the truth of Tom’s life and his family as the book progresses. It’s bleak. The fact that he keeps going is testimony to the human spirit, but what this man has had to endure is too much.
At its core the story focuses on the much-publicised scandal of the Catholic Church and its complicity in the widespread abuse of children by priests. The details given here focus on two characters integral to the story, and yet the knowledge that these behaviours were replicated in so many places and over so many years - and were known about but not stopped - is damning.
While the subject matter is truly shocking, at its core this was a profoundly moving tale of love. It showed how people can support one another and find ways to do right. There were passages of description that were incredibly moving, and the vulnerability of Tom at the centre of these stories kept me hooked throughout. I needed some time to compose myself once I’d closed the pages, and there was a sense that the characters left behind would continue their stories.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this before publication.

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Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry is a poignant and absorbing story of recently retired Garda Tom Kettle who has taken up residence in the annex of a castle in Dalkey, near Dublin overlooking the sea.

Tom is visited by two guards for some information in relation to an old case that he worked on years ago at the behest of his old colleague and boss Jack Fleming. This encounter triggers a series of memories that Tom feels a pressing need to share.

Old God's Time opens in a light-hearted charming tone with Tom finding ways to cope with the trials of retirement but gently progresses to address more weighty themes following the visit of detectives Wilson and O'Leary.

Sebastian Barry is a proven master storyteller and Old God's Time is another superb classic in-the-making.

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A beatifully written, thought provoking read. You can read my full review here https://www.rte.ie/culture/2023/0222/1357260-book-of-the-week-old-gods-time-by-sebastian-barry/

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I already know that this is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2023. The only Barry I have read previously is Days Without End which I loved so was excited to read this.

The novel follows Tom Kettle, a recently retired detective who has spent the last 9 months sitting in a wicker chair, smoking cigarillos, and looking out his window at the sea. When two young policemen come to ask him about an old case it stirs up a maelstrom of memory and historic trauma surrounding Tom, his beloved late wife June, and their two children.

This is the kind of writing that I feel like I am always looking for but I find so rarely. Exquisite prose that immediately submerges you into the mind of the narrator - everything else is forgotten. (Only Hilary Mantel, E M Forster, and Kazuo Ishiguro spring to mind writers who can do this).

Tom's grasp on his own memories feels fragile and, as the trauma of his past bubbles closer and close to the surface, you feel yourself desperately trying to cling on to what might be true. We see the effects of this - shifting Tom's perception of time, clouding every interaction he has with his friends and neighbors with uncertainty and a sense of impending threats that may or may not be there.

A beautiful, sad and graceful novel from an author I'll be exploring further.

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This is only my second novel by Sebastian Barry, but it has firmly cemented him in my list of favorite Irish authors. This latest offering, Old God’s Time, is utterly captivating, a hauntingly beautiful blend of exquisite prose and finely wrought storytelling. It wooed me, seduced me, then felled me like a sledgehammer.

Set in a small seaside town on the east coast of Ireland, it is the tale of Tom Kettle, a former policeman, whose peaceful retirement is interrupted when he’s contacted regarding an old investigation and reluctantly forced to recall troubled events from his past.

Tom is a wonderfully complex character, drawn in bold, vivid strokes. A man of routines and contradictions, prisoner to a dark, disturbing past and memories of family loved and lost. His inner monologues are rambling to the point of incoherence but filled nonetheless with a curiously compelling potency.

To read Tom’s story is to be transported into a world blurred by the vagaries of memory and shifting lines between imagination and reality. For much of the novel, the narrative thus has a haunting, other-worldly quality, making it hard to pin down its essence.

Until, that is, we reach a point, where the fragments finally coalesce, the lens snaps into focus, and the tragic, ugly truth is laid bare in all its awfulness. This shift, from nuanced to manifest, is absolutely brutal.

I wept. For Tom, and his wife June. For the shared trauma of their childhoods at the hands of the Catholic Church. And for the appalling tragedies subsequently visited upon their lives.

A disturbing, unforgettable story that carries all the hallmarks of a prize winner.

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I've been a fan of Sebastian Barry from my late teens, and it's not unusual for me to find myself with a lump in my throat as I even THINK about what I feel is is greatest work, The Steward of Christendom. I originally read that play a good ten years ago, and finally saw it performed at The Gate Theatre last year.

Old God's Time, Barry's new novel which published this week, reminds me a lot of what I loved about that previous play. Both are about older men (both named Thomas or Tom), retired policemen, who are left only with their memories and regrets, feeling misunderstood by the generations who came later. Both lived strictly by their code of conduct, a galvanizing commitment to uphold honor, while trying and failing to protect fiercely their beloved families. While Thomas Dunne from Christendom recounts to himself his ordinary failings and the change in society from his room in a care home, Tom Kettle in Old God's Time is only nine months into retirement, and has not yet had time to consider the hardships and dark secrets that have led him to sit alone in a flat in Dalkey to live out the rest of his days when two policemen call to his door.

The case that the policemen bring to Tom is an old cold case he investigated years ago, of two priests who were moved from parish to parish but never published for the suffering they caused to young people in their care. The details of this case, and memories of others like this, make this a very hard read in places, and unlike Barry's other books which are focused on national and religious identity and cultural memory, Old God's Time is a reckoning with generational trauma in Ireland, with the Catholic Church who brushed over the horrors so many children faced, and all of the people, policemen included, who were told to turn a blind eye.

I don't know if I can say I loved this book like I have others - it does have the most beautiful, joyful and sad way of rendering the world anew that I love from Barry, and it has a slightly different slant to what I love about his stories - but it's one I will have to sit with and think about over time, and is no doubt Barry at the height of his powers.

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Old God’s Time is a stand-alone novel by award-winning Irish author, Sebastian Barry. Now nine months retired after forty years in the Gardai, Tom Kettle lives in the Annex Flat of Queenstown Castle on Dalkey Island. His existence is fairly solitary, frugal and uncomplicated. He sees his landlord, wealthy Mr Tomelty, weeding the garden, and sometimes catches sight of the boy who lives with his actress mother in the Turret Flat, or hears the cellist in the Drawing Room Flat shooting at cormorants from his balcony.

But on a storm-threatening February afternoon, Gardai Wilson and O’Casey come wanting the former Detective Sergeant’s input on their latest case, a difficult and sensitive matter: a priest whose previous molestation case had been quashed by the higher-ups, now to be prosecuted. What they want to know about stirs all sorts of memories Tom would rather not think about.

“Yes, he had grown to love this interesting inactivity and privacy – perhaps too much, he thought, and duty still lurked in him. The shaky imperative of forty years in the police, despite everything.”

Then a special request from his former CO, Detective Superintendent Jake Fleming brings him in to Harcourt Street. He’s asked to share what he recalls of the investigation that he and his meticulous colleague, Billy Drury carried out into a pair of priests in the early eighties. He relates how frustrating it was that the evidence provided by Scotland Yard was passed, on order of the Chief Commissioner, to the Archbishop to handle, with the expected non-result.

Mention is made of what they believe to be a spurious accusation by the priest now under charges, about the murder of his priestly colleague, not long after the detectives investigation. The memories that dredges up, Tom would also wish to avoid. Now a decade widowed, Tom is thrust into memories of meeting his wife, and the confessions, made to each other, of their awful childhoods in Catholic-run orphanages, revelations that bonded them.

It eventually becomes clear that Tom might not be the most reliable of narrators: some of what he relates is definitely imagined. As people, places and conversations trigger long-repressed memories, Tom’s thoughts gradually reveal the truth of events, of a crime unsolved, and the reasons this good man is now utterly alone in a tiny flat surrounded by books still in boxes. “A sort of blossoming sense of relief maybe, that the wretched Fates had done with him. Had noticed his great happiness long ago, and emblem by emblem taken it away from him.”

This story is very much a slow burn: Barry indulges in digressions and tangents that sometimes seem to be unrelated but all add to the rich tapestry of the lives he is describing. In a story that powerfully demonstrates the devastating effect, on so many lives, of the Church’s systemic cover-up of abuse by those entrusted with the care of children, and the power of the Catholic Church, even into high levels of the legal system, over Irish society, Barry gives Tom one final, dramatic act to save a child from that danger.

As always, Barry’s descriptive prose, be it applied to characters or setting, is exquisite: “O’Casey, a long thin person, with that severe leanness that probably made all his clothes look too big on him, to the despair of his wife, if he had one” and “The sunlight stuck its million pins into the pollocky sea, the whole expanse sparked, and sparkled, as if on the very verge of a true conflagration” and “he found he couldn’t tidy his frazzled mind” are just a few examples. This is a beautifully written, intensely affecting read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Faber & Faber

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5★
“He had not been, he did not wish to go, he was quite content just to gaze out. Just to do that. To him this was the whole point of retirement, of existence – to be stationary, happy and useless.”

Retirement – happy and useless. It is raining fiercely outside, and Tom Kettle has been sitting cosy at home in his flat, which faces out to sea, watching the boats, and enjoying his solitude. He is reminiscing about his wife, his daughter, and his son.

“It was four in the afternoon and night was creeping in to take everything away till only the weak lights of the lamps on Coliemore Harbour would bounce themselves a few yards out onto the water, speckling the darkling waves.”

But someone has begun knocking on his door. Nobody ever knocks on his door, not in the nine months he has been glorying in his privacy.

“He was beholden to no man, he had earned that. His pension was his gun, his weapon against work.”

The knocking is louder, the doorbell rings, and he can just make out two figures through the glass. He recognises them immediately as the new fellows from his old station. Cups of tea all around and then, finally, they broach the subject.

“‘It’s something that’s come up and he thought, the chief thought, it might be useful to hear your thoughts on it,’ said the detective, ‘and, you know.’

‘Oh yes?’ said Tom, not uninterested, but all the same with a strange surge of reluctance and even dread – deep, deep down. ‘Do you know, lads, the truth is I have no thoughts – I’m trying to have none, anyhow.’

They both laughed.”

The talk meanders, discussing the area where Tom lives now, how the two young men grew up and where, and as they exchange these intimacies, Tom’s mind meanders even more, worrying about what’s coming.

The men say they have reports for him to read, but he says not now. The weather is far too bad for them to leave, so he offers to make Welsh rabbit.

While he potters in the kitchen, we begin to get a sense of what his life has been like and why he may be stalling these men. The next day, he tries to put it out of his mind by walking to the ocean for a swim (which seems more like punishment than respite to me).

“Scimitars of blunt wind flashed about everywhere, swiping at his hat, his hair, his heart.
. . .
A chill rain began, just for his benefit, he thought, oh it would, and soon made free with his coat collar, without a by your leave, and wet the back of his neck, just enough to put him in mortal dread of pneumonia. But by the time he had covered half the distance to the park at the top of the hill, here was the blessed sunlight, suddenly, the rain’s shy sister, not with any heat in it, but a measure of pleasing hope. He thought of those rare summer days when the whole land thereabouts would be oven-baked, every crevice and wide vista crammed with lovely, belligerent heat. Well, he was not there yet.”

I imagine I can hear the Irish lilt in the words as they are written. It isn’t enough to say that Barry’s descriptions are evocative – you have to read them yourself.

That is the overall tone and manner of the storytelling. Tom’s mind jumps from the happy times with June and the children when they were young, and then it suddenly sinks back into the extremely unhappy childhoods both he and June were trying to overcome. His childhood as an orphan left scars.

“Sometimes his head was like a wild horse, without bit or rein. He couldn’t leave it to its own devices. He must be talking to himself, give himself good orders like an officer of a higher rank. A state of mind he had beheld in so many men who had been in orphanages and industrial schools in the army. They had been incarcerated among gradual and impossible torments. Yet oftentimes as a bewildered boy walked out the gates at sixteen, he might shed a different kind of tear, with the new fright of the unknown world before him. Up early, get your grub, obey your commands – the army was something of a tonic, and no war ever seemed to compare with what they had already endured. Nothing again as terrifying as the shadow of a dark-soutaned Brother by your bed, in the deep night, to drag you out either to lather you or f*ck you. No Malayan fighter, magnificent, fearsome and dark, ever as terrifying as the small shopkeeper’s son in his measly garb, given a coward’s power over you by virtue of being at least a grown man. No wonder they released the boys, like knackered greyhounds from the cage, at sixteen, before they gained the muscles and the strength to fell the Brothers with just and merciless blows.”

Send them out the door before they’re too big to control, then for Tom, straight to the army to Palestine and later to Malaya.

“First you had your dress of sweat, only then your uniform. There was never a soldier didn’t sweat in Malaya, there was no such creature.”

The exceptional rifle skills he developed in the army stood him in good stead with the police recruiter, so there he stayed, a loyal policeman, for forty years. He does not want someone knocking on his door. He does not want to read the old police reports. He does not want to remember the bad old days.

“In the old days, when wives were bloodied and beaten, you were not to go further than the front door. Ah yes. You could check if a person was still breathing, but no more. A child of the house could be lathered into a state of utter distress – you had to leave that alone too. You learned these rules off the station sergeant, off the tough detectives. The lowliest of men were kings of women.”

He couldn’t possibly talk to today’s young police about such things.

“Couldn’t say why the contents of those reports assailed him even before he could read them. Couldn’t read them, couldn’t in any sense read them. Under any circumstances read them.”

The story of his family unfolds gradually, as Tom’s mind slides between reality, memory, imagination, and dreams. There is darkness and despair, but over all of that, is Tom’s undying love for June and Winnie and Joseph.

At some point while reading this, I remembered that I had learned the term “kettle” in a mystery when someone found themselves “kettled” in a dead-end alley. It seems to be used in policing to mean “corral”, when they form a cordon around people for crowd control.

I have no idea if the author intended this connection, but it seems apt. Tom Kettle has only ever wanted to cordon off the bad actors and protect people – the innocents – to keep them free from harm. All he wanted was love and justice and being with his family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this interview that the author did in 2019 with another great Irish author, John Boyne, who is a favourite of mine. It was this interview that convinced I must read Barry. It’s a delight to listen to them both. Barry’s other interviews are there as well.
https://www.rte.ie/culture/2019/0121/1024230-watch-sebastian-barry-john-boyne-in-conversation/

Many thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for the copy for review. I’m looking forward to reading more of Barry’s impressive, award-winning body of work.

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There are very few writers who are as adept as Sebastian Barry at combining harrowing acts of violence with moments of exquisite tenderness and grace. 'Old God's Time' perhaps showcases these extremes more fully than any of his previous novels I've read.

We follow the thoughts of retired Irish policeman Tom Kettle who is visited in his new home (a lean-to attached to a castle by the sea) by two of his former colleagues asking for his help in investigating an old case. The nature of this case - and of the help that is required - are only gradually revealed to us, but we fairly quickly discover that it is connected to the abuse of children within the Catholic church. We also start to realise that Kettle's grasp on reality is not always entirely secure, and much of the suspense of the novel comes from unpeeling his false memories and fantasies in pursuit of the real truth.

Barry does not shy away from graphic descriptions of sexual violence and the novel burns with a righteous anger at the extent of this evil and at the collusion of those in the highest positions of power. However, this is coupled with an incredible sense of humanity which emerges in the relationships Kettle forges with others - from the fierce bonds of love between him and his family, to the simple everyday courtesies exchanged with neighbours, colleagues and even strangers which affect Kettle profoundly. Almost every character in this novel seems marked by trauma, loss or solitude, and yet it is a novel brimming with gentleness and kindness. One of the most powerful scenes involves one character confiding her traumatic childhood experiences to another, a conversation which is inescapably brutal yet also intensely moving in the response of her confidant and the connection that is created between them.

As ever, Barry's writing is sublimely lyrical but in an unshowy and entirely readable style. This is a gorgeous novel which confronts big ideas with courage and beauty. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me an ARC to review.

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“Haunting, exquisitely written and makes your soul ache”
Retired policeman, Tom Kettle, is starting a life of retirement in a small place attached to a castle type residence with some intriguing neighbours. He's after a quiet life as in his life and career he has had a lot of "drama" .

He hopes to live with fond memories of his beloved wife June and their two children. However other memories begin to surface and intrude after two serving detectives visit to ask him about a case from the past.
His past and present collide .
It's written in an interior monologue style with Tom's memories and thoughts being gradually revealed and the plot being character driven.

The Irish history of abuse by priests is featured in this book. It's very shocking in places and moved me to tears. As I said in my "caption" it made my soul ache for Tom and his family primarily but also for all those other survivors of abuse.

Parts of it reminded me of James Joyce. Poetic with a distinct Irish flavour, it's certainly a movingly powerful book. I give it a rare 5 stars- I only award that rating to exceptional books. Barry is in the "premier" league of writers.

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It’s hard to know what to say about a book that is at once so beautifully written but so harrowing to read. Each time I picked it up I was caught up by the lyricism of the prose as we gradually get to know Tom Kettle, abused orphan, soldier, policeman and most uxorious of widowers.

As the tragedy of his story unfolds we are drawn inexorably to a conclusion we don’t want revealed. We want a happier ending for this man and his family who have suffered so much so valiantly.

The horrors of child abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church are sparingly but graphically described and the damage it inflicts across the generations is sadly far too in evidence.

No doubt some people will point to Tom’s unreliable narration - he is a man who sees ghosts and who experiences them in ways that make us doubt what he tells us. If we cannot believe whole episodes and conversations, then can we believe any of his story? I don’t have an answer but your heart tells you that it feels true.

Would I recommend this book? I really don’t know. It broke my heart to read it. Does it deserve all the superlatives it will surely garner? Absolutely

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⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Old God's Time
by Sebastian Barry

A gut wrenching story that explores the legacy of the most shameful secret in Ireland's history, clerical child abuse. So much non fiction has addressed the structural systems that created and managed and perpetuated and concealed and denied the beating and rape of little children, but Barry uses a fictional account to examine the lasting mental effects of having your childhood stolen, your innocence destroyed, your body violated, your right to safety and security desecrated by those entrusted with your care, then the further damage of disbelief when you took the gigantic leap of faith and tried to access help or tell your story. What kind of an adult can you become with every ounce of agency, dignity, self esteem stripped from your bones?

Written in lyrical, stream of consciousness style, we tap into the very soul of Tom, a newly retired Detective Garda in Dublin as he is approached by former colleagues to help in an old investigation. His narrative is completely unfiltered, obviously struggling to decipher fact from fantasy, memory from dream. It takes a few chapters to get into the swing of the writing, but knowing and trusting this author paid off for me.

Fabulous sense of place, Dublin at it's finest, from Dalkey to Deansgrange, Harcourt St to Phibsboro, St Stephen's Green to the Phoenix Park.

This is a tough and challenging read with horrifically triggering subjects. Prepare for this and you should be rewarded with a truly unforgettable experience.

Publication Date: 2nd March 2023
Thank you to #netgalley and #faberandfaber for the egalley

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Barry really is one of our finest writers and I think this novel may be his best in years. Profound, deeply moving and incredibly well-drawn, I fell in love with the characters.

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This the story of Tom Kettle, recently retired from police service, and now renting a simple apartment attached to an old stately home. It doesn't take Sebastian Barry long to draw us Tom's traumatic orphan childhood during which he suffered many of the abuses that the priesthood is all too often accused of perpetuating. But he survives, and ultimately makes good serving 30 plus years as a respected detective. Through Tom's backstory we learn of the tragedies and loss that also occurred in his own family which, in an ever-darkening plot-line are compounded by the opening of a cold case which brings two detectives to his door.
It is difficult to say more without revealing too much but, suffice to say, Barry's writing skill is pitilessly grim in exposing the dreadful damage done to children by the priesthood and how it impacts on future generations.
There is no comfort to be found at the end of this novel but we are left marvelling at how Tom contained his anger within himself and always sought justice for others.
Many other authors could come up with a similar theme and merit 3 or 4 stars, but very few could develop it with the superb, at times lyrical, descriptive prose Barry brings to each page. So 5 stars it is!

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Tom Kettle is a cleverly portrayed unreliable narrator. His mind seems to slip and drift from his memory to his present time - forgetful or perhaps needing to forget.
This is a melancholic story of loss and of lives damaged by clerical child sexual abuse and its cover-up by both the church and the authorities however in the hands of Sebastian Barry the tale isn't bleak. From the perspective of a retired policeman, himself an abuse survivor, Barry masterfully unwinds this story of love, revenge and retribution with this impressive novel.
Fans of Barry will take great pleasure in his return to Ireland, and his themes of family and trauma anthough readers looking for a straightforward thriller and a more conventional style should look elsewhere. Barry's beautiful and lyrical prose and slowly drawn-out story are superb and his readers will also enjoy Tom Kettle's incidental encounter with a member of the McNulty family.
My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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I love Sebastian Barry's writing however, although this as a page-turner, theme-wise, it is a dark and difficult read.
An excellent but harrowing read.
Thanks to NetGalley, Faber & Faber for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

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Sebastian Barry has been at his best for many years now, and Old God’s TIme is another example of his ability to create a world richly populated by interesting yet enigmatic characters, who lead interesting lives and whose doings are described in marvellous prose.

Tom Kettle is a recently retired senior Garda (Irish police force) officer, whose previous service with the British Army in Malaya gives him access to experiences such as few of his former colleagues could have had. Yet he has a Garda mentality in many ways, too. John Banville’s Snow comes to mind early on. But clearly, Kettle’s mind is deteriorating and, while there has been a period of bliss during his time with wife June and the rearing of their children, his good times were sandwiched by very bad times.

In fact, his ability to go on is confronted early in the novel until he gets visitors who are still serving Gardai and wish him to give advice on a reopened cold case. Then, like. Denis Lehane’s Shutter Island, the reader is led along a ledge where a form of logic applies that may not always intersect with conventional logic or memory processing.

But it’s not just an old man reminiscing or misreminiscing; the joy of young love gets ample space and the terrors of childhoods in the religious institutions that brutalised Irish society shakes out the cosiness that a former colleague ascribes to Kettle’s post-retirement circumstances.

A pleasure to read.

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I really enjoyed Old God’s Time. It’s not the book I expected. From the description I thought it would be a sort of literary crime novel. It’s something quite different. The references to the unsolved case simply serve as a backdrop for this powerful story about memories, life, loss and how people cope in different ways. The visit from the colleagues cause Tom to get lost in the past as his memories and emotions start to intrude more and more. The book as a surreal, dream-like quality which is very effective so you never know if the events are memories or fabrications of a sad, lonely old man. This is a powerful read.

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His latest standalone novel, Old God's Time (2023) by Sebastian Barry, is an evocative poetic tale. Tom Kettle is a retired, former police detective living in a granny unit attached to Queenstown Castle, overlooking the Irish Sea. For the past nine months, he has enjoyed the solace of his new home, until two former colleagues come knocking on his door. Questions about a former case generate a series of reflections and memories from Tom’s dark past. Struggling to come to terms with his grief and the sordid past of the Church’s presence, is soul-destroying. Warning: some of the content in this novel may be a trigger for some readers. Yet, this is a heartfelt narrative that portrays one man’s life, loves, hurt and betrayals. With its captivating atmospherics and wonderful characters, comes this splendid literary deconstruction of the typically powerful Irish storytelling. A fine example of literary fiction, that is a tragic yet life-affirming tale, with a five stars classic read rating. With thanks to Faber & Faber and the author, for an uncorrected advanced review copy for review purposes. As always, the opinions herein are totally my own and freely given.

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This is a poignant and moving novel about the repercussions and long-term effects of child sexual abuse, particularly that committed by Catholic priests on their young charges.

Tom Kettle is a retired policeman in his sixties, living out his days in a small flat attached to a castle overlooking the sea in Dalkey, near Dublin. Tom and his wife June were both sexually abused as children by Catholic priests and this ultimately led to June’s early death and affected the lives of their children. Although Tom enjoys his peace and solitude, he is at first pleased when two young detectives knock on his door late one afternoon. They have come to ask Tom’s help in looking at one of his old cold cases. Although he enjoys their company and reliving his time in the force, he finds himself being dragged back to an unsettling case from the 60s involving the death of a priest.

Written mostly through Tom’s inner dialogue, we become acquainted with the castle, its inhabitants and the town of Dalkey. As Tom’s thoughts wander to his wife and children and their lives together, his dreams often become mixed with reality, but gradually lead us to understand what happened to him and June and why the re-opening of his old case has so distressed him. In addition to being asked to help the police, Tom has also been asked to keep an eye on a woman and her son who recently moved into the castle, fleeing a violent husband.

Through his wonderful lyrical writing, Barry paints a picture of a kind and generous man who has had to endure one tragedy after another, before finally arriving at his seemingly peaceful life beside the sea. Barry handles his characters sensitively with both humour and empathy as this emotional story unfolds, arriving at a haunting but heroic ending.

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This is the third novel I read by Sebastian Barry, and I seriously doubt he can write a bad line. And if he does, they don’t feature in his novels. This is a tough book, about some terrible events, and if it wasn’t because of the beauty of the writing, I am not sure it would be possible to read it till the end. As it is, no matter how much hurt and horror it piles up, you cannot help but keep reading. And you should.
The way the story is told makes it even more shocking. It is written in the third person, but the reader is inside Tom Kettle’s head, an Irish policeman who retired only 9 months ago, living in a wonderful setting, what appears to be a charmed, charming, and calm life, and following the vagaries of his thoughts, where his memories of his family hold a place of honour. Stream of consciousness describes quite well the narrative style, where readers can find themselves contemplating the comings and goings of Tom’s landlord, his neighbours, the birds, the weather, thinking about his wife, his daughter, and his son, going shopping, cooking... At first, it seems as if this is going to be a cozy novel, where the retired policeman might be called to help on some kind of investigation, and this impression is reinforced when two young colleagues come to visit him, asking for his advice on how to deal with a case he had been involved in many years back. But his reluctance to learn any of the details of the case, and the way his mind seems to start wandering and unravelling from then on, make us realise that Tom is like an iceberg floating in the ocean, or a duck gliding on a lake. They might appear calm and quiet, but under the surface, there are hidden depths and a constant struggle to keep afloat.
What is true and what is not, who is there and who is a figment of Tom’s imagination, becomes difficult to discern as the novel progresses, both, in the outside world and inside of his head. He is one of those unreliable narrators that are not even aware they might be unreliable, and whose minds seem to be trying very hard to protect them, even if it might make them and others question their sanity,
Tom tries very hard to do what is right and eventually manages to face the magnitude of all that has happened in his life. He reflects upon fate, mentions Jonah and Job, and indeed, the Biblical comparison is not a bad one, because when he thought he had put his traumatic childhood behind him and had found happiness with his wife, who also shared a similarly traumatic past, things start to spiral out of control. This is a man who is still mourning his wife fifteen years after her death, and who’s been hit by more losses than a man his age would expect, and very few of the joys a good man would aspire to. There is much personal tragedy here, and there is child abuse as well, so readers should be warned about the nature of the content, in case these are topics too painful for them.
Tom is a good observer, has a huge heart and sense of justice, is aware of his limitations and able to laugh at himself, always happy to try to help others, even at great personal. And he is a man who values the small things and joys in life. I felt touched by his story, and I expect I won’t be the only one.
This novel is literary fiction at its best, featuring some wonderful and some horrible characters as well, full of love, joy, pain, and sadness, written in stunning prose with and for all the senses. If the subject matter and the warnings I have mentioned don’t put you off, do read it. It is an unforgettable experience.
I thank NetGalley and Faber & Faber for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Some samples of the writing, to give you a small taster. Remember that you can always check a sample in any of the online stores and also that this is an ARC copy, so there might be changes in the published version of the novel.
To lose your mother. It kills you, and then you have to live on.
He didn’t like to turn on the lights because he sensed the resentment of the objects as he passed. Something in the weather had shifted outside, the thick clouds were gone, the wind was still, and an unscheduled waking, intruding on the privacy of inanimate things —so deeply coveted by them. Chair and table, carpet and knick-knacks, wanting to be alone, like Great Garbo.
A soul like him left on earth without the person he had loved —what sort of creature was that?
There are worse things and worst things, he remembered thinking.
He felt he was disappearing to that final dot of light on an old television screen. Flick the off-switch and retire to bed.
It was as if he had just met her, that very same feeling of old in the vanished café, and yet of course in the very same moment, he knew everything there was to know about her. The strange privilege of that. The lovely wildness of it.

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Ex policeman Tom Kettle is trying to settle into life as a retiree, when two policemen call and interrupt his new found freedom. Their visit stirs up memories and ghosts from his past, disrupting his present. It’s a beautifully told tale, skilfully delivered by an exceptional writer. I found it extremely moving and sad.

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‘Exhausted youth is different from exhausted age. It can be repaired.’

Tom Kettle is a retired policeman, living alone by the Irish Sea in Dalkey, south of Dublin. His days are full of memories of his wife June, and their children Joseph and Winnie, all now dead, together with his observations of those who are his neighbours. Tom finds some comfort in the solitude and beauty of his surroundings. And then, one day, he is visited by two policemen who hope that he can help them. They are reopening a case Tom worked on some thirty years earlier, in the 1960s.

‘There were many terrible stories in the world, and he had heard most of them.’

This visit and what follows takes Tom into the past, into uncomfortable memories of abuse perpetrated on children, on him and his wife as children by priests, and this impact of that abuse. Tom is surrounded by memories. The good memories he has of June and their children, the bad memories occasioned by the wretched distress of abuse, of powerlessness. Can good memories balance the bad? Is it ever possible for the adult to escape the fetters abuse places on a child? Tom is comforted by his love for June, but he cannot forget or ignore the impact of the abuse she suffered.

Revisiting the case takes Tom back into his life both in the army and as a detective. His memories, shared with the reader, are not chronological and may not always be accurate. I found myself reading slowly, turning back pages trying to follow Tom’s thoughts. Stream of consciousness does not always work for me but in this case, it served to highlight Tom’s story, to amplify the paralysing widespread effect of abuse.

I finished reading this novel some time ago and am still thinking about aspects of it. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would not have had the same impact. This is a sad story dealing with uncomfortable issues. A harrowing but recommended read.

‘His story was told and he had told it to no one.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Faber & Faber for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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It's Sebastian Barry so you know the writing is going to be good, no great, but even knowing this, he still finds a turn of phrase, a wording, that will startle. God's Old Time is full of such moments.

Tom Kettle, a retired policeman, living a solitary, rural life on the coast is visited by two former colleagues who need to discuss a case, a murdered priest. This is not a crime novel though. Barry's prose takes us into memory, into liminal spaces, and in doing so makes an interior novel feel very expansive. Tragedy is at the heart of this novel, and though it is sad, it also full of hope, of a sense of an ending but also a new beginning. It is a novel very full of life.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC.

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I love Sebastian Barry's writing and this novel was remarkable. The writing is rich and poetic and incredibly moving. Thank you to the author, the publishers and to Netgalley for the opportunity to review an arc.

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As we come to expect from Sebastian Barry this is a novel set over just a few days, much of it played out in the protagonist's head and yet it is a memorable read. The prose is flowing and beautiful, It achieves the magical combination of being literary and yet light enough to be described as a page-turner.

Barry at his best yet again

Thank you NetGalley & Faber & Faber for the ARC

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With thanks to the author, publishers Faber and Faber Ltd., and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

This was my first work by Sebastian Barry, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While no doubt beautifully written, his style of writing was a little disarming to me at first, with his long rambling paragraphs containing a stream of consciousness that seemed to jump ad hoc from one subject to another and then back again. On a few occasions, I had to go back and reread a few pages to make sure I understood what was going on, but it was all so worth it in the end.

Tom Kettle is a retired police detective with an initially happy but ultimately tragic backstory. He has retired to an old castle on the Dublin coast to live out his remaining years in tranquility, but his peace is disturbed by a visit from two detectives that drags him back into an old case and digs up some unwanted memories for him.

Despite dealing with hard topics such as child abuse, bereavement, murder, and corruption, the author weaves these topics into the story in such a way that it is never unpleasant to read about them.

A wonderful reading experience.

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Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry is a beautiful , if occasionally bleak work of fiction. Tom Kettle is a retired Garda (Policeman) who is riding out his retirement in the beautiful seaside town of Dalkey, spending much of his time with his memories of his now deceased wife and his long grown children. His only real social contact is with his somewhat eccentric landlord and with the young woman who has moved in next door with her little boy. This quiet life is disrupted when two former colleagues knock at his door one stormy evening asking for his help with a decades old case , one that will take Tom back to some of the darkest moments of his past
This is a beautifully written book, so many times I found myself pausing to savour or reread a particularly striking sentence. The author does tackle the difficult subject of clerical child sexual abuse, discussing the trauma experienced by the victims as well as the impact on those who love them and even those tasked with investigating the crimes, which unfortunately was something of a futile effort during Tom's tenure at the force as the Church played shell games, moving priests from one area to another and covering up their crimes.
As the book unfolds we as readers start to realise that Tom may not be the most reliable of narrators, the stream of consciousness style means that the past and present mingle in his memory which can be confusing but does highlight how powerful memory can be and how often we strive to banish the pains of the past.
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own .

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The beauty of the words, the sentences, the paragraphs in this book is just indescribable. It is written like a song almost, each phrase worthy of stopping to take notice. The story so slowly unfolds and is so devastating, it will stay with me for quite some time.

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"Things happened to people, and some people were required to lift great weights that crushed you if you faltered just for a moment."

"The tears of a little girl. The dry, cool face of his wife."

The thing is that Tom Kettle, Barry's protagonist is faltering a lot and the weight is almost obliterating him. He is on a rollercoaster of images some of which may be real, some of which not so.

Old God's Time means a period beyond memory and this is exactly what Barry plays with. He tells of dream like dips into the past, memories, fantasies, wishes all mixed up with a dose of reality. But he leaves us unsure what reality really is and with the feeling that we do not really want to know. Especially when reality is filled with present day hurts and inherited hurts both of which leave marks on our souls and on our loved ones.

Barry's words are replete with the imagery invoked, the castle, the ghosts, the haunted hurt children, cleaning, atonement. The world he creates full of light and dark conveys that eerie quality which left me unsure what I was reading which I think is his way of showing the effect of hurt on memory, how we remember or forget to survive continue.

An ARC gently provided by author/publisher via Netgalley

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