Book Review: ‘Old God’s Time’ by Sebastian Barry

A Masterful Journey Through Time, Truth, and the Supernatural

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Book Title: Old God’s Time
Author: Sebastian Barry
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Number of Pages: 272
ISBN: 978-0571332786
Date Published: Feb. 23, 2023
Price: INR 463

Old Gods Time by Sebastian Barry Book Cover

Book Review

Sebastian Barry, a celebrated author known for his exquisite storytelling, delivers another literary gem in “Old God’s Time.” This novel, the ninth in a series weaving through two fictional Irish families, showcases Barry’s mastery of delicacy, warmth, and lyricism in portraying historical landscapes, much like he did in his previous works, such as “Days Without End” (2016) and “The Secret Scripture” (2008).

Set in the 1990s, the story revolves around Tom Kettle, a retired detective residing in an unconventional living space adjoining a Victorian castle in Dalkey, Ireland. Barry skillfully crafts Kettle’s existence, fraught with solitude and courage, as he grapples with undisclosed memories and emotions. Kettle’s musings provide insight into his world, peppered with the “little glories of life” that offer solace in the face of overwhelming thoughts.

When Kettle’s former police colleagues, Wilson and O’Casey, unexpectedly visit with decades-old case files involving church abuse and a priest with dark secrets, the narrative takes a gripping turn. Kettle’s character is brilliantly portrayed through Barry’s prose, which mirrors his outlook and professional rhythms, making every perception feel like an extension of Kettle’s being. Distrust, particularly regarding self-perception and the elusive nature of truth, is a recurring theme.

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Barry’s storytelling skillfully portrays the extensive damage inflicted by the church, offset by Tom’s unwavering strength and the solace in the memory of his late wife, June. Nonetheless, the pursuit of justice yields little in the way of closure, underscoring the persistent nature of past traumas. Adding an extra layer of intrigue is the question of Tom’s reliability as a narrator. Given his history and the encroaching grip of dementia, we are left to ponder how much his recollections may be clouded, introducing further intricacies to an already complex narrative.

The characters are meticulously crafted in this novel. As Tom delves further into the case, we become acquainted with fascinating neighbors who enrich the narrative, revealing Tom’s quiet valor and tenacity, even as he grapples with feelings of shame and cowardice. The quest for justice in the story provides only partial resolution, underscoring the enduring depth of past wounds. This book is a masterclass in evoking atmosphere with eloquent and heartrending prose. While delving into profoundly unsettling themes, Barry keeps you captivated through his multifaceted characters and vivid settings.

Old God’s Time” also delves into the realm of the supernatural, as Kettle experiences poignant reunions with the deceased, particularly his daughter Winnie. The emotional depth of these encounters adds a layer of complexity to the story. As the novel hurtles toward its conclusion, the pace accelerates dramatically, revealing past horrors with profound pathos and grief. In “Old God’s Time,” the boundaries between reality and conjecture blur, offering readers a deeply immersive and emotionally charged experience.

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