Annie Dunne by Sebastain Barry 256 pages
Not too long ago I read (and wrote a review) for Sebastian Barry’s A Long, Long Way. It was an exquisite little novel, one of the most powerful stories I have ever read about World War I. Then I stumbled up another magnificent Barry novel, Annie Dunne.
Annie’s story is a sequel, of sorts, to A Long, Long Way. I, however, did not make the connection to halfway through the story. So I won’t spoil it and tell you what the connection is, you’ll have to read it to discover it.
It’s 1959 in Kelsha, County Wicklow, Ireland. Annie has been relocated to the country from Dublin, forced out of her home when her dead sister’s husband wanted to remarry. Now she lives with her cousin, Sarah, in a small cottage on Sarah’s small farm. The cottage is so small that the women must share a bed. Both are in their sixties, I’m thinking late sixties, and have never married. The work is back-breaking, but both are used to such labors. Annie considers Sarah long in the face, while Annie is also plain and afflicted with a humpback as a result of a childhood bout with polio.
Annie has always been grateful for Sarah taking her in, and she’ll do anything not be on the verge of homelessness again. When Annie’s nephew, Trevor, asks them to watch his two children over the summer, Annie and Sarah agree. They aren’t used to the chaos a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy bring to their quiet lives, but both relish in playing mother.
Troubles are brewing for Annie. First a there’s the scheming handyman, Billy Kerr, who starts sniffing around Sarah. Annie is terrified that Sarah will marry him, thus leaving her homeless once again. Then Annie catches the children performing a bizarre, to Annie, sexual act. She doesn’t know what to do or say about this and worries about it constantly.
I found it quite interesting that the scheming handyman Billy Kerr also has the same name as Sarah’s donkey. Also, neither of the children’s names are ever mentioned. The simply referred as the boy and the girl.
Barry has a gift for image and metaphor. The prose is compact and beautiful. I’ve been telling my reader friends that Annie Dunne is pure poetry. I give this book five out of five stars.