The award winning The Sea and the Silence is the story of Ismay’s life and is presented in two parts – her married life and its aftermath, and her prenuptial period. I did not smile, laugh, cry or choke up while reading this book, but felt a kind of aura or anticipation that there was something spectacular about to happen on the next page.
The book begins in the 1940s. Ismay is a young bride who is about to see her future home for the first time. She is ecstatic when the car comes over a rise and she sees the sea spread below her. ‘I see the sea!’, says Ismay. You think this must be a private joke, or maybe she is really seeing the sea for the first time. You file it away thinking there must be a reference to it later. Ismay and her husband Ronnie, the scion of the local Anglo Irish landowner family live in a lighthouse. They have a son. Ronnie is not very successful at what he does. Ismay mostly walks about on the cliffs or by the river. She doesn’t work, neither does she ride, fish or hunt. There are times when you wonder how someone can live such an empty existence.
The second part of the book tells us about Ismay’s life before she came to live in the lighthouse. We find that Ismay has grown up on a sprawling estate that is about to be snatched away by the Land Commission. Her father is sickly and her brother is fighting the war. Her family is trying to arrange a marriage of convenience that will solve their financial problems. At a rugby match future husband Ronnie invites her to, she sees a different type of life and is drawn to it. Will her family let Ismay defy them?
The mystery, or rather secret of Ismay’s life is revealed in the end. You realize the author’s prowess as a storyteller because for the most part of the book, the reader is not even given an inkling about what is to come or what lies beneath. There is an air of despondency because you know all along that the person whose life you are reading about has passed away. In the end, you realize that there was only one driving force in Ismay’s life, and she never made any effort to make much of what she had.
The Sea and the Silence is an interesting story against the backdrop of the Irish conflict. The irony of the plot will strike you a while after you turn the last page. This book will make more sense to someone who is familiar with the history of Ireland. For the uninitiated, some background might have helped. Regardless, I would say this is a must read.