As it has been mentioned many times on the UBC blog, September was a huge month for us. Television appearances, inspiring stories, not one but THREE baby announcements and a third anniversary rounded out a month of celebrations.
It was ALSO a huge month for
us me because I, a founding member, got to make my third book selection in three years. With a group as big as ours, and with new members joining all the time, the privilege of picking a book doesn’t come by too often – and – can never be taken too seriously.
Now, we must remember that my LAST book club pick was 50 Shades of Grey; unanimously dubbed one of the more poorly written books the UBC has ever encountered. If there was ever a moment I needed to redeem myself, this was it.
After perusing the Man Booker Longlist, which was announced in July, I conducted the careful process of seeking out each contender and evaluating how it would go over with the UBC ladies.
It wasn’t long before I fell upon Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic. Having previously suggested his critically acclaimed Let The Great World Spin, which we passed over to read Never Let Me Go, I thought this multi-perspective novel, which weaves together over 150 years of Irish history and political turmoil, would be a great fit. Historical fiction usually gets full marks from our club.
TransAtlantic begins with the story of two airmen, still grappling with the horrors of the First World War. They bravely take on a challenge to pilot the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland.
The novel then moves onto the story of Frederick Douglass, a black American slave who lands in Ireland in 1845 to discuss ideas of freedom and his views on abolishing slavery.
Rounding out Book One of this 300-page narrative is the tense resolve of American Senator George Mitchell, who, only 15 years ago, traveled overseas to marshal Northern Ireland’s fierce peace talks.
In Book Two, McCann attempts to lace each of the above stand-alone stories into one, through the lives of the women found in the backdrop of the three tales.
As Lily Duggan becomes Lily Ehrlich, in an effort to forget the troubled past of her homeland, so initiates generations of Ehrlich women who, despite growing up in different time periods, face similar struggles while grappling to understand the unrest that can be found in Ireland, still.
But, the girls of the UBC were divided in their love for McCann’s latest. While some found poignancy to the picture he paints of a country’s centuries of historical turmoil, others found the characters dry, the story confusing and the narrative impossible to really delve into.
For the most part, however, we all, maybe ironically, could see where the other girls were coming from.
As one member put it: McCann may not have been trying to create compelling characters, but rather, he crafted a novel that serves as a glimpse into a complicated history. One that, even today, experiences varying degrees of religious, economic and politically motivated turbulence.
We all agreed that any Canadian or American coming from an Irish background would likely appreciate the light shed on Irelands’s history, and the role the respective countries played in it.
Our views of McCann’s writing style also varied. Some girls (like me) were enamoured with his concise sentences and short paragraphs and others took issues with his lack of grammatical discipline.
Before choosing TransAtlantic I had read a review that said, “What McCann says in a sentence, others can’t say in a paragraph.” Now, having read the novel, I can say that is a fair summation of his style.
However, in places we wish McCann had organized the novel differently, more fully developed some of his more suspenseful sections or chosen to weave the first half of the book more closely with the second.
Ratings for TransAtlantic fell between 2 – 4 (out of 5) with many members not even managing to finish the book.
But, the best part about TransAtlantic was just that – it generated discussion, varying views and steadfastly different opinions.