Sunday 9 December 2018

Lyrical meditation on grief

Fiction: Rainsongs, Sue Hubbard, Duckworth & Co, €12.99

Rainsongs by Sue Hubbard
Rainsongs by Sue Hubbard

Justine Carbery

Sue Hubbard's latest novel Rainsongs, a beautifully-written meditation on love, loss and grief is prefaced by three quotations: one from Virginia Woolfe's To the Lighthouse; one from Shakespeare on the subject of the past and grief; and the last an Irish proverb 'Is beag an rud is buaine na an duine' - The smallest of things outlives the human being.

All three reverberate throughout this erudite book, which maps the physical, emotional and cultural landscape of West Kerry.

It is December 2007 and Martha Cassidy is a woman in mourning, returning to her late husband's cottage in search of solace. We see the rain-drenched landscape through her eyes. We feel the salty spray of the wild Atlantic and marvel at those who have chosen to remain and make their livelihood from the stony fields.

The lighthouse on Skellig Michael stands as a beacon to Martha, as it did centuries ago to the monks who boldly faced the swell on their perilous crossing to the isolated rocky outcrop. Their journey mirrors her own - a return to a wild place, a perilous crossing, skirmishes with locals and a reliance on the solitary beacon.

Isolated and rural it may be, but this parish is not immune to the excesses of the Celtic Tiger, with Botoxed wives holding extravagant dinner parties and greedy developers planning luxurious spa hotels. Martha spends her days reading her dead husband's notes and letters, in an effort to come to terms with his infidelity, his death and the shadow of a previous loss that has haunted her over the years.

As supplies in Martha's cupboard dwindle she is forced to connect with the locals; the overbearing Eugene, who has plans for the land surrounding her cottage, bachelor Paddy O'Connell struggling to maintain his farm and young musician Colm, with whom she bonds over poetry and the role of literature.

Things come to a head and she is forced to make a decision about the cottage and her future but, fortified by recent experiences, she undertakes one last journey, achieving closure and readiness to reconnect with the world.

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