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A Man in a Distant Field

by Theresa Kishkan

Declan O’Malley is a man on the run. O’Malley, the protagonist of Theresa Kishkan’s new novel, A Man in a Distant Field, is an Irish schoolmaster who flees his small ancestral family farm after the murder of his wife and daughters by the Black and Tans. By early 1922, O’Malley has settled in Oyster Bay, a tiny coastal community on the Sechelt Peninsula, where he spends his days grieving and working on a new translation of The Odyssey. Burgeoning friendships with Rose, the young daughter of his landlord, whom he teaches to read, and with several members of a local native group draw O’Malley back to the world, and precipitate his return to Ireland and to a confrontation with both the past and the future.

A Man in a Distant Field cleaves rather too neatly into two distinct halves. If the novel’s second half – set in Delphi, County Mayo – is less impressive than the first, it is only because the scenes on the B.C. coast set such a high standard. A magical and haunting evocation of grief and growth, the early chapters of A Man in a Distant Field are a wonder; more bounded by narrative concerns, the Irish sequence pales somewhat in comparison.

Kishkan, who lives in Sechelt, B.C., is a master of setting and mood, with a keen eye for descriptions both lyrical and precise. Anyone who has spent any time on the B.C. coast, for example, will be stunned by the immediacy and immersive clarity of Kishkan’s writing. While this is a novel of ideas, freighted with classical allusions, botany, and history, Kishkan never loses sight of her characters. Although the dialogue is occasionally stilted, it is of a piece with the novel as a whole. Reading A Man in a Distant Field one enters a world of myth and tale, firmly rooted in the world, but distinct from more realistic approaches.

One is tempted to refer to Kishkan as word-drunk, but despite her obvious love of – and sensual pleasure in – language, the term doesn’t quite apply. Her writing is too tightly controlled, with the clean, slow burn and earthly sensibility of a fine whisky. Sip carefully or drink freely. Either way, you’ll soon find yourself under Kishkan’s spell.


Reviewer: Robert J. Wiersema

Publisher: Dundurn Press


Price: $21.99

Page Count: 306 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 1-55002-531-7

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 2005-1

Categories: Fiction: Novels