Transatlantic, Colum McCann


Some of you might know that I am a huge Colum McCann fan. Huge as in really really really BIG! I love everything about McCann’s writing – his carefully crafted plot lines, his intricate characters and the wonderful way that he weaves seemingly incongruent elements together in a wonderful patchwork design. But, most of all, what I love about McCann is his writing.

McCann has a gift when is comes to words, a gift that simply defies description… “The sound of leaves falling. Quieter than rain.” McCann has a way of taking you with him, transporting you into the heart of his intensity in a way that few others can.

He looked at Isabel again. She was thin and ordinary, certainly not pretty…. He told her of the dead child he had seen on the road. He noticed the words move into her face, inhabit her: the road, the raft of twigs, the dropped coins, the roof of trees, the way the light had fallen around them as they drove away. The story weighed her down. She wrapped the fringed thread so tight that the top of her finger was swollen.

This is what McCann does to me with his words: he wraps me up tight until am ready to burst, a swollen finger entwined with a piece of thread, and then he slowly unravels the tale so that it becomes a kind of dance between him and the reader.

I related to so many of McCann’s characters in this book, particularly to the women that he brings to life in the latter part of the novel. Emily, a character with “a heaviness on her”, who feels as though she is on the brink of something “just out of reach … never quite sure what it could possibly be.” Emily, who is envious of “the young Woolf” who shows “command and promise” and a “profusion of voices (t)he ability to live in several different bodies.” Emily, who questions the value of life, “(a)n accumulation of small shelves of incident. Stacked at odd angles to each other.” She is the one who “could sense the skip in her life, almost like the jumping of a pen. The flick of ink across a page. The great surprise of the next stroke. The boundlessness of it all. There was something in it akin to a journey across the sky, she thought…”

McCann’s tale is stretched taut across the tragedy of Ireland and the potential of flight. The entire novel littered with incredible references to journeys which take place against the sky: “A pair of geese went across the sky, their long necks craned. They soared over the cottage and away. They looked as if they were pulling the colour out of the sky.”

I literally drowned in all the layers of the novel and I read it so slowly, a word at a time, savouring every moment. Eventually, I lost the thread of the story and became immersed in the pool of words that swirled around the characters, shafts of ice being pulled down river, a plane over head and a boat traversing seas. Mothers, daughters, mothers and sons and random strangers who become saviours because of their kindnesses.

I finished the novel: “We have to admire the world for not ending on us” and I couldn’t help myself, I went straight back to the beginning to drown in it all over again: “The cottage sat at the edge of the lough. She could hear the wind and rain whipping across the expanse of open water: it hit the trees and muscled its way into the grass …”


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