Old God's Time

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Pub Date 02 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 09 Mar 2023

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'Wonderfully alive. . . an unforgettable novel from one of our finest writers.' DOUGLAS STUART
'His work reminds us how much we need these rare gifts of the natural storyteller.'

'Have you ever been the custodian of a story no one else believed?'
'Oh yes,' he said.
'You have?'
'Yes,' he said.
'Then I can tell you.'

Recently retired policeman Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian castle overlooking the Irish Sea. For months he has barely seen a soul, catching only glimpses of his eccentric landlord and a nervous young mother who has moved in next door. Occasionally, fond memories return, of his family, his beloved wife June and their two children.

But when two former colleagues turn up at his door with questions about a decades-old case, one which Tom never quite came to terms with, he finds himself pulled into the darkest currents of his past.

A beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite as it seems, Old God's Time is about what we live through, what we live with, and what may survive of us.


'Wonderfully alive. . . an unforgettable novel from one of our finest writers.' DOUGLAS STUART
'His work reminds us how much...

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...

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ISBN 9780571332779
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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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