My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The writing in this book was often beautiful, and the characters were engaging and multi-dimensional. The first section, which tells the story of 2 men attempting the first trans-Atlantic flight from Canada to Ireland, was written in spare prose filled with the tension of the flight attempt. In other sections the writing is slightly more expansive, as suits the narrator and the action. The imagery is beautifully drawn. Here is an example from the section about George Mitchell and the Good Friday Peace accords:
"The north, below, is stunned with morning sunlight. Patches of bright yellow on the mud flats. The fields so wide and grassy. Lake and water-meadow. A silver estuary and a huge lake. One small cloud, cast out by the herd, limps away to the west. The plane banks and the city of Belfast appears, always smaller than he expects it to be. The high cranes of the shipyards. The maze of side streets. The soccer pitches. The flats. The fretful desolation. Then out over the fields again, the incredible depth of green." (p. 121)What really impressed me about this novel was the finely crafted structure of it. McCann wove several stories, across continent and generations, together and did it very well. The insights into the various characters that the reader gets in the sections focusing on those characters enhance and deepen the other sections where they make appearances. The book is also filled with occasional gems of language and insight. I especially loved this one:
"What was a life anyway? An accumulation of small shelves of incident. Stacked at odd angles to each other." (p. 221)The only quibble I had with the novel was that the section about Frederick Douglass seemed too intimate and I found myself questioning it--how could he know Douglass thought that--so often that it distracted me from the story.
Overall, an excellent literary work.