Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews


by Aislinn Hunter

Poet and short story writer Aislinn Hunter’s first novel is about a young Canadian who makes the pilgrimage to Europe to find herself. The plot may sound old-fashioned, but Stay’s rigorous examination of the relationship between colonialism, globalization, and identity places it in the company of Michael Ondaatje and other postcolonial writers of the last decade.

Abbey is a 26-year-old Canadian who travels to Ireland to escape the clutches of her drowning father, a wrecked man who never recovered when Abbey’s mother walked out on the family. Once across the pond, Abbey meets Dermot Fay, a fifty-something former professor of medieval literature whose career was destroyed when he got one of his undergraduates pregnant. Abbey moves into Dermot’s cottage in a Galway village, and a tumultuous relationship, echoing both characters’ pasts, ensues. Meanwhile, Dermot’s English archeologist friend is excavating an ancient body discovered in a local peat bog. Hunter’s restrained, precise prose style keeps the plot highly plausible throughout, though the writing is marred by the occasional purple passage.

The intertwining stories play out against the canvas of postmodern Ireland, its traditional identity and way of life transformed by a burgeoning tourist trade, a Gaelic TV network, the Irish kitsch industry, and the arrival of the euro. Hunter is a talented cultural archeologist, carefully recording the myriad ways in which globalization is transforming Irish history and society into a kind of theme park for both tourists and locals.

Stay gives a dark and sophisticated look at these characters as friends and lovers, parents and children, suggesting along the way that the violent human desire to control and colonize, even on the most personal levels, hasn’t changed much since the bog people’s era. Yet the novel refuses to judge or stereotype its flawed but ultimately sympathetic characters, and it ends (almost against its better judgment) on a note of hope. Controlled, smart, and humane, Stay is an impressive first novel.