“From a Low and Quiet Sea” by Donal Ryan – Book Review

Part I- Farouk

The war is Syria has escalated and finally reached the town where Farouk, a doctor, and his wife Martha, a biologist, and their young daughter live. When a boy is crucified in public, this serves as a catalyst for Farouk to seek escape from the war’s horrors. He pays a man well to aid him in his departure from Syria. The man though is corrupt. After a dreadful journey he finds himself alone in a tent. A tent among many in a refugee camp. He assumes that Martha and Amira are somewhere else in the vast camp. His hope keeps him going… to believe anything else would kill him. Denial is how he survives.

Part II- Lampy

Lampy is twenty-three years old and lives with his mother Florence, and grandfather in a small town in Ireland. He works at a nursing home, changing beds, cleaning, and sometimes driving the residents to their appointments on the bus. He feels trapped in a life he didn’t plan.

Lampy is set to a day of driving the bus, but his mind is on the things that a young man would think of. What he will do after work, if his girl will let him have sex with her, if he has enough petrol in his car… Lampy is a sad young man. He has always been thus. He also entertains thoughts of driving the bus over a bridge…

Part III – John
“My father lost his first and best-loved son and shortly after started buying land. As though to allow accommodation for the breadth and expanse of his sorrow.”

John is not a likable man. He learned from a young age how his circumstances could be manipulated with lies. He knows that if a lie is told often enough, it will eventually become truth. He became a lobbyist and put his skills of manipulation and persuasion to use for himself.

Now old, John is making his first true confession in decades, perhaps his entire life…

Part IV – Lampy discovers a terrible oversight. When you learn what that is and who the people are who are involved, your breath will catch at the tragedy of it all..

Although the cover clearly states that this is a novel, it doesn’t really read like one. It is comprised of four distinct parts.  Three separate stories, with a fourth story tying them together to make one cohesive whole.

“Armoured they came from the east, From a low and quiet sea. We were a naked rabble, throwing stones; They laughed, and slaughtered us.”

The title is very fitting when you read the above lines. The entire book was about people who were defenseless against their fate. Thrown about life like flotsam on a beach.

The fourth and final part of the book ties the disparate stories together in a profound way. A way that made my breath catch.

The writing was skillful and the prose almost beautiful in parts. Imagery was crisp, and characterization strong. “From a low and quiet sea” was sad, but very compelling literary fiction. In summation, a very worthwhile read which I would definitely recommend. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Penguin Books via Edelweiss.

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
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12 Responses to “From a Low and Quiet Sea” by Donal Ryan – Book Review

  1. Susan Spindler says:

    I am reading this in the hopes that I can try to understand the linkage between the four parts. So disheartening, as it was beautifully written, to not understand what happened at the end. Would love some Cliff notes.


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  5. ron877 says:

    This is a superior review. I will definitely read this (or find its audiobook) based on your great review.


  6. Thanks for this–I’ve been looking for novels that are stories tied together, so I think this is just the ticket.


  7. I just got sent the paperback of this and can’t wait to read it. He is such a wonderful writer.


  8. Rosie Amber says:

    I’m not sure about the first parts of the story, but your conclusion makes it tempting.

    Liked by 1 person

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