Title: Such Small Hands Author: Andres Barba Publisher: Portobello Available: 3rd August 2017 (ooooh we got an advance copy, thanks Portobello) Rating: 3/5*
It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything for review, and even longer since I’ve been so challenged by such a short book. Such Small Hands takes us by the hand and leads us into the strange life of Marina as she assimilates into the orphanage following a car accident in which “Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital”.
It’s often said never meet your heroes because they cannot live up to the high standards you’ve built them to. In my case the exact opposite of this is true: I don’t live up to them. That is to say I do the horrific awed silence into which pours discomfort for all people.
Last week, I had the great fortune to attend a Faber Members event in the beautiful St. George’s Church, to hear Sebastian Barry read from his Cost Book of the Year winning Days Without End. I must say, should you ever get the chance to see Barry read, jump on the bandwagon. It’s not an experience to be missed. Not only does his prose alone pack a punch, but so too does his delivery. Clearly his days as a playwright have not left him. As the soldiers slashed through the bodies and the trees shrouded in the smoke of a burning lodge, we, the audience were bathed in the gore and soot by Barry’s voice. Shivers rose on more arms than my own.
Sitting in a church pew, listening to Sebastian Barry read one of the most harrowing passages of any of his novels I’ve read was one of the best ways I’ve spent a Wednesday night in a long time. Not least because after the reading, the author was good enough to take some questions about the novel and then sign copies of his books for the massing fans. It’s no wonder that Matt Haig named him the number one author to see read from his work, a fact that a fellow Guardian Books Desk journalist Sian Cain pointed out when introducing the author.
Sadly, my nerve failed me when it came time to asking questions and I missed out sorely as I spent the whole week building up to asking Sebastian Barry a question. Then I was failed again when all I managed to get out when he signed my copy was “It was a truly beautiful book”. “Thank you very much, was there anything else?” he responded with a glint in his eye, my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth resulted in a brief nod from me.
But it truly was a beautiful piece of work. Part war story, part western, all stunning. I can really appreciate why it’s been so well received and gained so much praise since its release. I must admit this one, like so many others moved me with almost every chapter. You would think that I’d get tired of snivelling every time I open a book. Alas, it’s not so. Sebastian Barry has yet again filled my eyes and heart to brimming with the stunning Days Without End.
Finally, should Mr. Barry happen to ever read hack bloggers’ opinions, I would like to post my question here and live in hope: As your novels deal with the various places Irish people turn up, and you often claim them as your family, have you set out to write the Irish identity in its entirety from the laudable to the detestable, or is this just the disposition that comes from being an Irish author writing Irish stories?
Well, the way I look at it is if it doesn’t sell today, it’ll sell tomorrow. You know what I mean. Like as I was saying many bookshops closed because they wanted the quick sell but that just not how it is now.
You may or may not have seen it, but earlier this week I found the placeat Word on the Water, the London bookbarge. Needless to say, the name alone had my wordplay side gripped from the moment I saw it. After I left, I could not stop thinking about how it had come about, and got on the Facebook to ask for a word with them to fulfil my craving.
Thankfully Jon, the owner, agreed to talk with me when I went back to visit later in the week. The afternoon was warm and sunny when I went back to meet Jon, and being the amateur I am I had prepared a pen and paper set of questions. Almost immediately I regretted this decision as Jon had so much to say I tidied them away pretty quickly. Let’s skip the rest of the rigmarole I keep typing and erasing and get down to what we actually spoke about…
So, I suppose my first question would have to be when did you start up the bookbarge, and how did you come up with the idea?
Jon: Well in 2011, we started up here because…well I had a bookstall, I still do, it runs on Saturdays at Archway, word on the Street that is. But anyway, so my mate he lost his job and came to work on the bookstall. And we were living down the canal at the time and one morning he said to me “Wouldn’t it be good if we could just stay at the canal and didn’t have to go to work?”. And so that’s what happened.
Wow, that’s literally the dream, wouldn’t it be good to have work come to you. So, does the barge have to move along the canal, I imagine barges aren’t often stationary?