Book review: Rainsongs

Lonely reminiscences on the Irish coast


Rainsongs by Sue Hubbard

Sue Hubbard’s third novel is a subtle, moving exploration of love, loss and parenthood. It follows recently widowed Martha Cassidy as she returns to a remote family cottage on the west coast of Ireland to try to make sense of her life.

She is burdened with painful memories of the tragic death of her young son Bruno several decades earlier, as well as the sudden loss of her husband Brendan, with whom she had a complex relationship — he’d had a long-term affair, from which their marriage never recovered.

Going through her husband’s belongings, she realises how little she really knew him. “Slowly, little bits of him keep emerging,” Hubbard writes, “like the secret writing children do with lemon juice, which only becomes visible when held over a flame”.

Craving solitude and respite from her grief, she is nevertheless drawn into the lives of various local people. There is Eugene O’Riordan, a greedy property developer and old friend of Brendan’s, who has designs on the land of Paddy 0’Connell, a local hill farmer.

The events take place in 2007, before the financial crash, when Ireland is still prospering. O’Riordan and O’Connell represent, respectively, new and old Ireland while Colm, a young musician and poet, is hoping to be published and perhaps something more.

Martha suffers a double loss — of identity as well as that of the deaths of her son and husband, and feels “erased by grief”.

Hubbard, known principally as a poet, conveys the bleak, rain-swept landscape of County Kerry so vividly that it almost feels like another character in its own right — the sky “is streaked pink” while “across the strait, the islands rise like whales surfacing out of a tin-coloured sea”.

Martha recalls a holiday in Rome with her husband and a visit to the Jewish ghetto there. She believes that, for James Joyce in his great novel Ulysses, the centrality of the Jew, Leopold Bloom, was no accident. Although there is no obvious similarity between the Jews and the Irish, underneath, “they begin to seem like brothers separated at birth. Two ancient peoples destined to wander the world as outsiders, subject to suspicion and derision”.

Rainsongs aches with loneliness and sadness, yet Hubbard’s finely crafted prose, along with a glimpse — as the novel ends — of a more positive future, makes for a deeply pleasurable read.

Sipora Levy is a freelance reviewer

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