Quill and Quire

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Inishbream

by Theresa Kishkan

Inishbream was first published, in a slightly different form, as a limited edition in 1999. The novella is the story of a Canadian traveller, the unnamed female narrator, who drifts to the small titular island off the west coast of Ireland, into the arms of a local fisherman, into the grudging and distant acceptance of the other islanders. It’s a way of life that is ending, as the government plans to resettle the islanders on the mainland, while French and German tourists begin buying up the not-yet-deserted stone cottages.

Initially, the book’s language seems self-consciously poetic, but very soon, you may find your lips moving along, your voice capturing the rhythm and the plain-spoken quality of Kishkan’s prose, informed by the Irish dialect encountered by her narrator. Coupled with this gift for narrative voice is Kishkan’s keen awareness of place, and her ability to evoke it for the reader. When she writes of Ireland, the reader is vividly transported into small rooms, dim and smelling of peat smoke. When her narrator, in those dim rooms, tells of her Canadian past, the reader experiences this country in a new way, sees it through new eyes.

Inishbream is a story imbued with the rhythms of speech and of the natural world, of dying and living, of flight and change. It holds the same fundamental truths as a sung air, as the hanging notes of a tin whistle, of the resonance of pipes.

So close your door. Turn down the light, and light a candle, or better, an oil lamp, to read by. Settle in and open the cover. The spell woven by Inishbream is too delicate, too sublime, to waste with reading on the bus or train on your way to work, or between bites on your lunch break, or in bed at the end of a day that leaves you exhausted.